Most of us have experienced the kind of dreadful, sinking feeling which sets in when you have a midterm, a term paper, and a completely incomprehensible number of readings (sometimes in a language you don’t even fully understand) due: tomorrow. So, if you are anything like me, you load your bag up with books and head to the library right after making a brief pause anywhere that sells caffeine in order to keep yourself awake for the treacherous hours ahead. I enter a kind of “power through” mode, where I plug myself into my music and don’t look up until I’ve finished the task at hand, but it wasn’t until recently when I realized that the music I was listening to might have actually been inhibiting, instead of helping, my last-minute cramming.
Have you ever had the experience of typing the lyrics of the song you’re listening to, instead of the well planned thesis you intended to? This is because our brains are actually not equipped to multitask in such a way to allow us to listen to music with lyrics (often popular music) and retain information at the same time. By listening to music while studying or writing, the brain is in overload, and the likelihood of becoming distracted by your own study method is very high. Many recent studies have been done on the topic and it was found that people who are in a habit of studying with music on do eventually became more capable of doing so; however, on average their test scores were lower than students who studied in silence.
I’ve always found studying in silence tricky though, especially in university where even the quiet floors of the library are never quite silent, and so I would turn on my music to drown out what little noise there was, in order to concentrate. So, if the music isn’t helping me focus, but neither is the not-quite-silence, then what’s a good alternative? The answer is: Mozart. Just as playing Mozart for children was shown to increase brain activity during the Mozart Effect testing, similar results have been found to be true for adults. There have been countless studies performed on study habits, and it has consistently been found that listening to piano concertos, instead of the average university student’s Top 25 Most Played, will increase brain activity levels and activate both sides of the brain, without inhibiting concentration.
Since I’m majoring in classical voice, I am obviously more interested in classical music than many university students; however, if Mozart really isn’t for you, there are a variety of other techniques which have been found to have similar effects on study habits. For example, individuals who listened to nature sounds, white noise, or even acoustic guitar were found to have higher test scores than individuals who listened to music played on popular music radio stations. Ultimately, every individual has different tricks which help them retain information, and we all learn in different ways; however, next time you go to study and hit play on iTunes, try using Youtube to look up Mozart study music or take a look at the study playlists on 8Tracks, it may surprise you. However, I would definitely recommend blasting Eye of the Tiger to get pumped for the exam itself. Wishing everyone the best of luck on midterms, happy studying!
Here is some of the stuff on my Studying Playlist:
Or for those that prefer relaxing sounds: