Music has long been known to have a powerful effect on the mind. Many people reach for a pair of headphones as the first step in studying or completing classwork, while others prefer peace and quiet with no audible distractions at all. Understanding how music affects mood and memory can help you determine when music is appropriate during your studies and how it affects your long-term results to use this tool to its fullest as you study for your exams.

Music and Improved Performance

Numerous studies have indicated that music can improve mental performance by “activating” the brain and promoting a more creative mental environment. More recent studies have found that listening to music you enjoy can boost your mood, which intensifies mental focus and improves willpower to keep you successfully on task, even when you’d rather be doing something else. If you can’t find a quiet environment in which to study, pulling on a pair of headphones can also be beneficial, helping you to create a more peaceful and personalized environment free of distractions. Additionally, music can help you stay focused on repetitive-type tasks, improving your efficiency and helping you to complete more studying in less time when you feel energized and excited about your work. Finding the right music that inspires you without distracting you from your studies can be extremely beneficial, especially if you are struggling to find the time or the motivation to hit the books.

Music and Decreased Performance

While music can have a clear positive effect on concentration and academic performance, there are several caveats to consider. First, the type of music you listen to can affect your concentration—most people find that vocal music is more distracting than helpful, particularly when trying to memorize lists, orders, and other information by rote memory. In these cases, the lyrics act to confuse the brain while it is also trying to process very specific input, making it more difficult to categorize the information you are studying. Second, listening to music is part of a concept called context-based learning, which states that music is most helpful in memorization and academic tasks when you can recreate your study environment during a test. Thus, listening to the same music while you study and during your exam produces the most beneficial effect, but this is not always possible. Unless you will be taking your exam at home, you should also take some time to study in a quiet, classroom-like environment as well to improve your results.

Good study habits will set the stage for success in school and beyond as you prepare for a career. You can stop by our blog and news feed for more great suggestions on developing study habits that will aid you for life, or check out our courses on the web.