Can music help you to study better?

For many students around the world, the summer can’t be enjoyed until exam season is over. Fortunately, research has found that listening to your favourite music can boost productivity when studying.

Choosing the right songs and artists, and opting for music that is familiar to you will assist your studying, according to Curtin University’s head of psychology and speech pathology Adrian North. “What determines whether music helps or hinders studying is how much or little physiological arousal it produces,” he explains. “Music is less arousing if it is slow, smooth and steady, and it also places a lower demand on your brain if you know it well already.”

Other research backs up North’s idea, with William Ford Thomson, a professor at Macquarie University, finding that “highly familiar music may be efficiently processed and less distracting” and that “music is most likely to disrupt reading comprehension when the music is fast and loud”.

Therefore, it’s probably best to opt for music that is more subdued and not to turn it up to 11. But it’s important to remember that your preference of music is important so hunt out the down-tempo songs on your favourite albums to start creating your studying playlist.

If however, there really aren’t any down-tempo songs that you know and enjoy, other research has found that classical music can also be a helpful study aid.

Research from France showed that students listening to a lecture where classical music was played in the background performed significantly better in a test about the lecture than those who heard the lecture without the classical music.

Additionally, an article published by the University of Southern California says that listening to music by Brahms, Handel, Mozart, Strauss and Bach helps with relaxation and promotes a good night’s sleep – both of which are pretty useful around exam season.

Adrian North’s top tips for choosing study music:

  • Avoid hard rock, big dance beats and heavy rap music
  • Pick the music you know very well
  • Keep it slow, steady and smooth
  • Music is perfect for repetitive, monotonous revision
  • The right music is very helpful for when you have to pull an all-nighter
  • Chill out with music during stressful periods
  • Listen to the same music you studied with just before your exam, research suggests this helps to recall facts
  • Remember that music might not be helpful when you’re dealing with complicated information

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