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Does background music reduce the effectiveness of revision?

Does background music reduce the effectiveness of revision?

While many of us like nothing better than to listen to a selection of our favourite artists while poring over revision material, others maintain that ‘hear-a-pin-drop’ silence is the only tolerable learning environment for them.  

If you fall into the first of these two categories and struggle to study in silence, it is wise to remember that background music will almost certainly affect – and in a negative way, unfortunately – your capacity to absorb information.

What if you simply cannot study without music?

However, don’t despair, as there is something you can do to reduce the negative impact of music on your capacity to retain the information you’re reading: pick the right type of music!

Numerous studies have revealed that while all music reduces the ability to memorise facts, concentration is likely to be least impaired by music without words.

Music with lyrics can be distracting

This makes sense when you think about it, because if you’re listening to a song you know well, almost inevitably you will feel compelled to join in with any familiar lyrics, and very quickly instead of chanting the finer details of the latest tax laws, you’ll find yourself mouthing along to “Magnificent (she says)”.

And of course, once you start focusing on the lyrics of any song, you don’t need to be a genius to work out that your concentration is bound to suffer.

Do you listen to music while you revise for exams? Or do you like complete silence? Click To Tweet


Mozart: The Better Alternative to the Top 40 Hits for Effective Exam Revision

However, the good news is that word-free film scores and classical music are apparently significantly less interruptive to one’s train of thought than music with lyrics.

In fact, there is even a recognised beneficial cognitive effect – albeit it a fairly short-lived one – when listening to music composed by Mozart. This phenomenon is known (unsurprisingly) as ‘the Mozart effect’, a term derived by scientists from the University of California, who discovered the effect during a study carried out in 1993.

They found that individuals who had listened to a particular Mozart sonata (his Sonata for Two Pianos, K.448, if you’re interested) for 10 minutes demonstrated heightened spatial reasoning skills – and the effect lasted for a further 10 to 15 minutes afterwards.

Some Suggestions for your Study Soundtrack

So the short answer is: if you shun silence when studying for exams and cannot contemplate all those hours of endeavour without having background music on, do your beleaguered brain a huge favour and choose the tracks least likely to get in the way of your learning. To get you started, here are a few suggestions…

  • Harry in Winter – Patrick Doyle
  • Rey’s Theme – John Williams
  • Time – Hans Zimmer

If you’re on Spotify, here’s a 25-minute playlist put together by a professional music supervisor specifically for revision background music.