Does music help or hinder studying?

The impending season of exams often gives throwbacks of attempting to cram too much content into your memory bank with not enough time; a trigger point for stress. But what if music could help you think, feel, and study better during what most people consider an emotional overload during their educational experience. Continue reading to grab a few tips on how to use tunes to prepare for those upcoming exams...

Woman writing and studying on balcony

What type of music will help me study?

What determines whether music helps or hinders studying is how much physiological arousal it produces. Loud, fast, and unfamiliar music creates more arousal causing your brain to devote more processing resource to listen to it. This reduces the amount of concentration you can devote to the books. But this isn’t always a bad thing...

If what you are trying to learn is repetitive or boring, then listening to some arousing music could give you that hit of energy you need to stay on-task (say goodbye to that fourth cup of coffee!). Similarly, if you’re pulling a late-night cramming session and your lack of sleep if getting the best of you, some hard rock, heavy dance beats, or machine-gun rapping might just keep your brain running at optimum speed.

However if you’re trying to learn difficult content that requires close attention to detail (hello physics!), either give music a miss or play some smooth jazz or classical. Your brain already is working hard to study and remember everything, it doesn’t need extra work. Music is less arousing if it is slow, smooth, steady, and if you are familiar with the songs being played.

man with headphones working with apple laptop

Don’t sweat the small stuff! What music will reduce stress before my exam?

Preparing for exams can exacerbate your emotions, leaving you feeling run down and overwhelmed. Just as a musician warms up before they perform; warm up with music prior to studying and sitting your exam.

We suggest calming those nerves and frustrations with low arousal music. Practise mindfulness by focusing on the music itself; guaranteed a few if not all the butterflies you feel will fly away.

However, coming to the exam after a sleepless night - cue the rock music to wake yourself up.

Create a study playlist!

To boost brain stimulation put your music on shuffle - a variety of music will keep you on your toes and reduces the risk of dosing off into dreamland. To stay focused, prepare a playlist of low key (soft n’ smooth) familiar music, keeping you feeling relaxed and ready to pump out that essay.

We recommend using Spotify, iTunes Radio or a similar ad-free radio station so you can efficiently study without the distraction. In order to keep the focus on revision, you should set the preferences for only a low level of discovery (so most of the music is familiar) and turn off Facebook notifications. If you need a boost, then turn up the level of discovery (but remember: keep Facebook turned off).

We have linked below a few of our favourite playlists from Spotify we listen to while studying and working.