How music can help your revision

  • How music can help your revision

Fed up with silence while you work, or hearing people talking away in the background? You could listen to music while you revise, which can block out the noise and just make revision seem a little more interesting. Some students find music distracting, while others find it helpful. So what impact does it have on your studies and those final grades? Well it depends on what music you are listening to. Some music has been shown to stimulate the mind, and improve grades, while other music is not so helpful.

According to research, people who listened to music while they did their work didn’t do as well on tests compared to those who studied without music. And the results were not just minor either - the differences in the scores were quite large[1], and in terms of grades this could be the difference between passing and failing a subject. Or it could be the difference between getting onto your desired university course, and the course that you get the grades for. However there are disagreements. Other research has suggested that music actually makes your grades better[2]. Both sources did however agree that the type of music you listen to has a great deal of impact. So perhaps it’s more to do with what you listen to, rather than whether you listen to music or not.


So what should you be listening to?

Although it might sound a little boring, classical music is often seen as very helpful during revision. It has great effects on revision, because it helps you to remember and recall information better, and therefore allows you to absorb much more of the information that you cover while you revise. Classical music is actually better for those studying maths, and it can actually boost the grades of students who listen to it[2].

On the other hand those studying languages shouldn’t listen to music with words, because these can confuse you, and make it more difficult to actually learn the language[1]. And in most cases instrumental music or music without lyrics is much more beneficial. Lyrics in songs tend to disrupt your focus, so it might be best to find instrumental versions of your favourite songs, and listen to those instead.

But far from selecting the music for you, it’s more about trial and error. Different people have different tastes, and different amounts of concentration. So some people find that they’ll get just as bored with instrumental music, while others find it makes them more productive. Other people find listening to music they know is better, because the music will be more likely to become background music. If you do not know the song then you’ll be focusing on the song rather than your work. So you just have to try different music and see what helps you study the best.

It's important to note that not everyone finds music beneficial. For some it can be harmful to their grades, while for others it can give them a great boost. You have to work out what is best for you, and how you revise best. Every individual is different so I cannot speak for the entire population. If you live in a noisy household, a little music might be a little less distracting than hearing people talk. But if you need dead silence, then music probably isn't for you.


Tips for getting the right music

Here are just a couple of ideas that myself and my friends seem to find useful when revising with music. You might have some own tips and ideas too (feel free to add them):

  1. Get a playlist organised beforehand to prevent disruption once you start revising.
  2. Choose music that you know, and try to choose songs which don’t disrupt you.
  3. Don’t put the music on too loud.
  4. Listen to the music out loud rather than through headphones (as long as it doesn’t not disrupt anyone else), because then it becomes background music.
  5. Try different genres of music - maybe try sound effect music - such as the sound of rain or whale music (don’t laugh - it is very relaxing).
  6. Try to avoid using youtube for playlists, because ads always seem to be popping up, which will distract you.


Further reading