As final exams creep closer, are you finding yourself wondering about how to improve the effectiveness of your study habits? Many people listen to music while they study, and when midterms come around, the genre people often choose to ease them into study mode is peaceful, classical music. The lack of words and the soothing orchestral sounds seem to match the focused vibe. But are Wolfgang Mozart’s sonatas enough to help you crush your exam? Are there better options out there?
Some may say EDM or techno are preferable, others prefer pop and a rare few may opt for hard rap — everyone has different favorites for their study soundtrack.
Music has the potential to maximize learning. It activates both the left and right hemispheres of the brain at the same time and has been proven to reduce anxiety and blood pressure, as well as improve sleep, mood, memory and mental alertness.
Background music can also have an impact on different attentional states and performance. A 2020 study collected subjective reports of various attentional states — including mind-wandering, task-focus and external distraction — and measures of reaction time on certain tasks.
Participants were either tested with silence or with their self-selected preferred background music. The results showed that their music choice increased the proportion of task-focus states by decreasing mind-wandering states. This means that their brain took a more focused state, and any wandering states were less likely to occur. The music did not affect external distraction states, meaning that if you were sitting in a noisy environment or surrounded with talkative people, listening to music may not have been enough to help you focus.
Although the findings showed that an individual’s preferred music can enhance task-focused states, this conclusion is limited to low-demanding attention tasks. So, it isn’t a given that listening to your favorite artist will give you photographic memory powers while studying for that final.
Nevertheless, listening to your preferred music can help focus your mind and quiet internal distraction (No promises regarding outside influences!).
Another tip for creating study playlists is to look at the familiarity of the music. Since music decreases stress and cortisol levels, it helps the brain work without interruption. These regions of the brain are connected to the regions that process emotion. Certain music can put us in touch with specific memories or emotions, which, according to Srini Pillay, a Harvard psychiatrist and brain researcher, makes us “emotionally volatile.” This can be used to our advantage to help us think clearly but can also hurt us if it causes negative emotions to linger and take over our thoughts, distracting us from the task at hand.
All in all, if you’re a music lover and it helps your mental state, then it is best you don’t forget your headphones as you head to the library to study for finals. National University’s blog focuses on providing information and aid to people navigating school and career opportunities; according to a recent blog post of theirs, which references sources such as the American Psychological Association and Psychology Today, claims that classical music, ambient sounds, nature sounds, electronic music, lo-fi hip-hop, jazz and film or game soundtracks are the most popular study-music choices. But, if you want a playlist curated to match your vibe, here are some tips when choosing songs:
– Tempo: music with 60-70 beats per minute has been proven to help students retain information
– Sound control: don’t let the volume of the music overpower you; be able to hear yourself think clearly
– Lyrics: if the lyrics make you want to get up on the table and belt your heart out or make you want to contemplate life instead of study, it might not be the best choice
– Commercials and ads: ads and chatter can break your focus. Maybe find a radio station with commercial free music!
No mind is alike. Create a playlist that matches you and your needs, but make sure you like what you’re listening to. And if silence is your preferred background noise, that works too! Find what works for you before finals approach so you can be ready to hit the books with the perfect playlist.