Music to Study By

There has been some research into the effects of background music on learning, in particular the Mozart Effect with young children. Essentially babies focus on novelty when learning and the complexity of classical music provides plenty of novelty for their young ears. It boosts mental arousal which means, in theory, they are more attentive generally.

From the research on human performance we learn that faster tempo music helps to boost mental arousal levels when tackling boring tasks, so you could try this with the dull stuff. It doesn’t have to be classical musical, although it should be instrumental as words tend to get in the way. You want to focus on the learning material not the chorus to your favourite rock anthem (such as Alice Cooper’s School’s Out). You could also try putting on your favourite music with the dull stuff. It should help a little with motivation and a little of the music’s magic may even rub off on the dull material. After all, we do tend to learn more effectively when we are in a positive state.

For the more complex material requiring a greater degree of concentration, music with a slower tempo would be more useful, for two main reasons. Firstly, it will help to focus attention and blank out background distractions. Secondly, when trying to get to grips with tougher material to study, which can be stressful, slower music can help to relax us and focus our attention.

There are CD collections of slower classical pieces, such as largos and adagio. Music stores also often have a ‘Meditation’ rack in their classical section which are ideal. My recommendations are confined to European classical music but any type of instrumental music is fine. There’s also a wealth of  new-age type meditation and relaxation music that you could use, if that’s your thing.

Overall, it’s important to remember that music tastes are very personal. So, when choosing music for studying, go for something you like or at least feel neutral about. It’s really all about helping you to focus and improving the leady environment and experience. Forcing yourself to listen to music that irritates you is going prove more of a hindrance than a help. Ideally make yourself short collections that last around 30 minutes and study intensely for this time, then take a short break. See also my study skills tips for further details on this technique of short study periods followed by short breaks.

Recommendations:
Try pieces like: Vivaldi’s Largo from ‘Winter’ from The Four Seasons; Bach’s Air on a G String (no jokes please); Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor for Strings, or  Pachelbel’s Canon in D. You could also try ambient music such as Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.

PS: After reviewing the evidence on subliminal learning tapes for Evidence of Things Not Seen, we concluded that there was no evidence to support the bold assertions made. Any effect, if any, is most likely down to the placebo effect and you’d be better off just making your own compilation tape of favourite stuff, as outlined above. Being in a positive mental attitude is far more beneficial for learning.

Links:

 

17 Top Study Skills Tips From a Psychologist and Lecturer

Applying principles from psychology, learning theory and teaching practice will take the guess work out of studying for exams. Here are some top tips that have worked well for me as a student, a psychology lecturer and for my students. You can also adapt these for driving test or preparing for presentations. Some of these tips are also useful for confidence building.

Study Skills Top Tips:

  1. Information sinks in better if we start with a positive attitude, so don’t be resentful, recognise the privilege of studying and actually ‘enjoy’ the experience.
  2. Begin each study session with some deep breathing exercises. Use the Two Minute Stress Buster throughout the day in your short breaks.
  3. Drink water throughout the day as dehydration can lead to a reduction in your cognitive functions. However, don’t force yourself to drink too much – just enough so you don’t feel thirsty.
  4. Avoid junk food and eat those all important fresh fruits and vegetables.
  5. After the first day, the first 30 mins of study should be a brief review of the material you covered the previous day. This is easy,  it gets you ‘in the mood’ and it helps with retention.
  6. Try to study in the same place as a routine. Context is very important in memory recall. Memories of where you study are automatically linked with the facts.  In exams, don’t panic, instead of trying to force the information out, begin by closing your eyes, taking some deep breaths and imagining your study space. This will help to release the study material associated with your study space.
  7. If you have to listen to music while studying, just choose something instrumental that just helps focus your mind and block out distractions. Lyrics just get in the way.
  8. Create variety in your study routine so that you don’t get bored. Try mind-mapping, condensing notes, asking yourself test questions etc.
  9. Try  giving  non-stop 20 minute presentations (to an imaginary audience on a topic) with only a handful of cue cards. Even if you falter you have to keep going and deliver the whole presentation. The act of keeping on going helps to build and strengthen associations between different facts and makes it more likely that you are using your own words.  At the end of each presentation, review where you got stuck, and try it again.
  10. Revise in shorter sessions (30 mins) with small breaks in between to prevent mental fatigue.
  11. Try this study routine: Morning: 30 mins study, 5 min break, 30 mins; 5 min break; 30 mins, 5 min break; 30 mins; 15 minute break – for which you should get away from your study space. Repeat again, but this time you can have lunch after 40×30 min sessions. Repeat for afternoon up until dinner time.
  12. Five sit-ups or press-ups in the short breaks will also help limit mental fatigue, and you may end up with a toned-stomach at the end of it.
  13. Create a study timetable where sandwich the subjects you don’t like between the ones you do.
  14. Practice relaxation exercises (eyes closed and take long slow deep breaths) – see my Two Minute Stress Buster post.
  15. Get out in the fresh air, in daylight everyday, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  16. Get exercise – build this into to your weekly study timetable.
  17. Don’t study right up until bed time, this can ruin your sleep. Instead, spend the last hour relaxing before you go to bed.

Wishing you happier and more productive studying.

If you enjoyed this post check out other teaching, learning and study skills blog posts by Gary Wood. Also consider using the buttons below to like the post or share it with others.

Links: