How to Keep Your Brain Active During Summer Vacation

It’s been called the summer setback, summer slide, or summer learning loss.

As far back as 1906, researches have noticed that students will finish their spring semester with a higher level of academic achievement level than they’ll have a few months later when they begin the next school year, reports Brookings Institute.

Experts recommend that you treat your brain like a muscle and exercise it. These 16 techniques can help you keep your mind sharp during summer vacation, so you’ll be at peak performance when you begin the fall semester.


Researchers have found that games and puzzles have been linked to better brain performance, improving attention, reasoning, and memory.

1. Crosswords

Word games dramatically slow cognitive decline. Older adults who regularly do word puzzles have the equivalent brain function of those 10 years younger. With results like that, surely doing crosswords can help a college student stay sharp during a three-month summer break. Learn NYT’s recommendations on how to get started solving crossword puzzles.

2. Sudoku

Sudoku has also been correlated with increased brain performance. Ready for a challenge? Try sandwich Sudoku, the viral game that combines math and logic.

3. Chess

People who play chess regularly have brains that are different from the rest of the population, with increased brain activity in areas associated with problem-solving. One study found that 18 weeks of chess classes improved the subjects’ IQs.

4. Tangrams

The spatial reasoning challenge tasks users with rearranging shapes into a specific pattern. Similar to geometry, completing tangrams has been found to activate the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Try it free with Mathigon’s interactive tangram app.

5. Trivia

Trivia games are a great way to exercise your brain’s recall function. You can even incorporate this brain training into your summer activities by attending a trivia night at a local pub, cafe, or bookshop.

6. Lumosity

The brain-training app, Lumosity, offers interactive games to improve memory, problem-solving, and cognitive processing speed. The brain games can help you target specific challenge areas such as speed, memory, attention, flexibility, problem-solving, language, or math.


Even though school is out, continuing to learn during the summer months can keep your brain activated.

7. Pick Up a New Skill

Even Steve Jobs veered from technology to typography during his college years, and many college students use the pass/fail option to audit a class in an unfamiliar subject. Learning a new skill during the summer can keep your mind active, and you never know when you might use that knowledge.

8. Learn a Musical Instrument

Learning a musical instrument is a particularly effective way to train your brain. It’s been associated with improved spatial reasoning, verbal memory, and literacy. Researchers have also found structural differences in the brains of musicians with a significantly larger bundle of nerve fibers connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.

9. Read

Unlike in high school when your reading list was assigned, college students can be more self-directed in the books they choose to read during the summer months. There’s plenty of inspiration to consider, including Bill Gates’ summer reading list with five recommendations for 2019, NYT’s summer reading list with 75 recently popular books, and a collection of 88 noteworthy books from TED talks presenters.

10. MOOC Course

Do you need a little more structure to your learning? Sign up for an MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). These online classes are typically free and are often taught by top college professors in their field. EdX and Coursera are popular online platforms.

11. Learn a Language

Do you want to globalize your communications while challenging your mind? Learning a language is free and easy with the Duolingo app. Currently, there are more than 30 languages to consider.

12. Prep for the GRE

If you’re planning to go to graduate school, you’ll need more than a good GPA to be accepted. Using the summer to prepare for your GRE exam can help you avoid disrupting your college classwork with exam prep.

13. Podcasts

Both Mental Floss and the BBC have put together a list of podcasts that'll make you feel smarter. For those who are ready for a marathon, try Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. A single episode can last four to five hours long, covering a sweeping story arc from history.

Outside Your Comfort Zone

Researchers have found that stability kills learning. Get outside of your comfort zone to keep your brain responsive to new information.

14. Switch Hands

Whether you’re a righty or a lefty, it isn’t easy to use your non-dominant hand. However, the challenge will help you build new neural pathways and stimulate brain activity. Cognitive neuroscientists caution to not take it so far that you attempt to be ambidextrous.

15. Find a New Route to a Familiar Place

Rather than following your habits, look for ways to do things differently. Even something such as changing a familiar route can improve your mind’s flexibility and creativity.

16. Agree to Disagree

Are you able to have a reasonable conversation with someone about something you disagree on? The polarization of college campuses is increasing, and discussions about differing opinions can help you sharpen your own positions and generate empathy for another point of view.

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