This is a question that I’ve heard and answered a few times in my old blog but I’ve yet to go over it on this blog. After receiving the question again I figure it’s worth going over:
What are your thoughts on music while studying? I like it in the background. I’ve heard some people say it improves studying while I’ve heard others say it doesn’t improve it.
My quick answer: Listening to music while studying is less efficient. I categorize it with any other kind of distraction.
That being said, this answer isn’t always 100% fair. I’ve spent quite a lot of time on this question and the answer is much more complicated than a simple don’t do it.
I’ve been playing with this idea for years.
When I was younger I did a number of personal study experiments. I used to practice memorizing data under different sets of conditions. Then I tried to generalize results from my experiments.
At the time I was just looking to study better. One of the experiments that I tried repeatedly was listening to music while studying.
I went into my music while studying experiments looking to prove that music helped. Every bone in my body was looking to prove that music improved my ability to study.
Music didn’t help.
In more cases than not, it hurt my final results. As painful as it was, I accepted that I shouldn’t be listening to music while studying.
Since then, I’ve dug into tons of documented studies related to this subject. I hate to give such a broad answer to a specific claim but the studies tend to suggest a few things.
Music without lyrics tends to show better results. Having a voice belting out words is a huge distraction.
On average, music does have a negative effect on results.
It also tends to lead to more volatility in the final results. What that means is that music hurts some people more than it hurts other people. While on average it’s bad, it may be good for some people.
There aren’t too many studies addressing the question of musical preferences. A student generally wants to listen to music while studying to enjoy studying more. But enjoying the music in the background could be a distraction. Distractions are not the right way to get better grades.
In many studies, the experimenters select the music.
That makes it so the students own personal preference can’t change the results.
A student would select the music they select based on what music they would enjoy more. I believe enjoying the music more will turn that music into a larger distraction than some randomly selected song by a scientist.
That could make the results worse than the studies represent.
The studies tend to make studying with music in the background a risky proposition.
Some students may only be slightly hurt by music. Many students are hurt by the music in the background. That’s why I’m quick to say, “don’t do it.”
Naturally, the real answer is, it’s complicated.
If you’re going to listen to music anyway then you should look for:
- Listen to randomly selected music
- Music with no lyrics
- Music that you’ve listened to enough that it’s boring.
If you’re looking for the best possible results then you shouldn’t listen to music. Studying is for studying. If you find it intolerable then do less of it. You’ll remember more that way. Maybe even try the 15 Minute Study Strategy.
If you’re looking to learn other ways to get yourself focused for studying (that are more effective and consistent than listening to music) then be sure to read 7 Tricks To Getting Focused For Studying.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow, check out the archives, and read the ebooks in the sidebar for all the details.
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