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The sounds of revision – tune in or tune out?

Is playing music while you’re revising a good idea or is silence really golden? Some swear it helps, while others need absolute, convent-like quiet study.

Many students prefer to study while listening to music. For many, the image of a college library is of conscientious young people huddled over tomes, furiously taking note, with earphones in. There have been a whole host of studies on the impacts of music on cognition and learning. Often with contradictory findings.

We’ve looked into it and summarised what we’ve found into two handy ‘Pros’ and ‘Cons’.

The benefits of revising to music:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety. This in turn can help make study time more effective.
  • Puts you in a good mood. Revision can be boring at the best of times, so having tunes you enjoying in the background can help with motivation
  • Improves focus. Studies have shown that certain types of music stimulated the parts of the brain involved in making predictions and ‘updating the event. In effect music encourages “the brain to pay attention”.
  • Enhances memory. Music has been linked to emotion and memory recall, helping to create connections that make it possible to bring data back to the fore.


The case against audible interruptions:

  • Creates a false environment: You don’t have music during the exam. If you’re not comfortable with silence you’re in for a shock during your tests!
  • It’s distracting. It’s seems logical to conclude that if part of your brain is processing the music you’re listening to, it can’t possibly be working as hard as it should on study.
  • Reduces comprehension. Recent studies have shown that loud and agitated music have a negative impact on reading comprehension. This is especially true of any music with lyrics.
  • Less efficient learning. Students who study with music tend to absorb less information.


At the end of the day, how these competing arguments play out is entirely dependent on the student and how they prefer to learn. For one it might be too distracting while for another than is the price you have to pay for being in a better mood to even start.

However, playing your favourite banging tunes loudly is certainly not conducive to studying. Try something more chilled – it doesn’t have to be classical – and keep it to background levels. If you find yourself singing along, it’s probably best to skip to the next track!



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