To plug in, or not?

By Clara Lee


As the examination period draws near, many of us might find ourselves doing one thing – going to the library, finding a quiet study space, and putting on our earphones to tune in to our favourite music.

For many of us, music has become our indispensable study companion, helping us focus better. For others, it might prove to be a distraction that must be switched off.

Setting the mood

Music is often deemed to have a profound effect on one’s mood and state of mind.

Second-year Nanyang Business School (NBS) student Nicholas Teoh is no stranger to the benefits of classical music as a study aid.

The 22-year-old swears by the calming melody of “River Flows in You”, a popular piano piece by South Korean pianist Yiruma, and plays it on repeat whenever he hits the books.

“I have been listening to this song during study sessions since my O-level exams. It helps (to calm me) when I’m studying for a very nerve-racking test,” he said.

Putting a song on repeat may improve one’s mood and benefit studying, according to Dr Ong Jia Hoong, a research fellow at the School of Humanities.

The impact that music has on one’s mood can heavily affect their learning capabilities, said Dr Ong, who has conducted research on the correlation between music and cognitive science.

He added: “I found that listening to music can improve moods and arousal levels which lead to better learning of academic material.”

Singing it to memory

For other students, enhanced levels of productivity may also come in the form of better memory retention.

Lydia Loo, a second-year NBS student, attributes her ability to quickly absorb the content of her readings to the tunes from her trusty iPod.

The 20-year-old stocks her playlists with both English and Mandarin acoustic songs.

“It drowns out background noise and makes it more conducive for me to quickly understand concepts and theories,” she said.

Dr Ong also says that music can be used as a mnemonic device by presenting knowledge and information in the form of a song.

“Think about how kids learn the English alphabet. By incorporating melody, kids are able to learn all 26 letters and remember them for decades,” he said.

He added that auditory learners would find this medium especially effective as learning is delivered through the powerful tool of music.

An auditory learner absorbs information most effectively through hearing, as opposed to other learning styles such as visual and kinesthetic which refer to seeing and doing respectively.

Forget the lyrics

But Dr Ong recommends students to steer clear of songs with lyrics.

This is because listening to lyrics while studying demands the brain to juggle two tasks, resulting in “less cognitive resources to study the material”, he said.

“Something without vocals would be less distracting. With lyrics, there is the danger of impairing reading and comprehension.”

For third-year School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering student Lim Jun Xi, the choice of playlist differs according to the task at hand.

The 23-year-old is a fan of soft pop songs, and finds this choice of music effective when revising scientific or mathematical material.

But he steers clear of his usual playlists when it comes to tackling lengthy essays.

“I’ve found that the lyrics interfere with my thought process when writing. But there seems to be no issue when I’m dealing with mathematics and the like,” he said.

Ultimately, the choice of music boils down to one’s  personal preference and level of self-awareness. In fact, as a student, Dr Ong himself said he preferred to study without the company of music.

So whether you’re a fan of soothing instrumentals or rock music, take your time to craft the most helpful playlist to you, or simply unplug every once in a while.

The Nanyang Chronicle has created a customised study playlist for maximum productivity. Jam your way to a higher GPA with our playlist of lyric-free songs! Tune in to our playlist on Spotify at