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How Music Can Help You Study for the Bar Exam

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Are you setting the tempo for your studies? How do you set the mood for bar prep? Chances are, you’re turning up your favorite study playlist and settling in for a couple hours of bar prep. According to Forbes, “Americans now spend just slightly more than 32 hours a week listening to music” (McIntyre). Luckily for you, there’s a real method behind this madness.

Studies show that music can not only enhance your mood but also increase your memory retention. Recent “research finds that listening to soothing music can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels in heart patients” (“Stress”). Although you may not be a heart patient, the same results hold true for most people. After all, your brain is not able to function as well when under stress. Occupying your brain with soothing sounds in place of worries will allow yourself to give your full attention to learning.

Whether you’re listening to upbeat, invigorating music to keep you going or relaxing with smooth jazz, you are engaging several parts of your brain. In addition, “a Stanford study found that ‘music moves [the] brain to pay attention.’ Researchers utilized musical compositions from the 1800s in their study, and found that ‘music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory’” (Baker qtd. in “The Benefits of Studying with Music”). Wake up every part of that big beautiful brain! All three of those benefits are key components to retaining information.

Without getting too technical (after all, we are by no means medical experts), UC Davis researcher, Petr Janata conducted a study that showed after listening to music, “the brain was tracking these tonal progressions in the same region as it was experiencing the memories: in the dorsal part of the medial prefrontal cortex” (“Stress”). The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex’s main job is storing metamemory which has the most influence on the memory apparatus. In short, by pairing music with bar prep material, you ignite your memory twice!

More specifically to you, a soon-to-be bar examinee, music has an incredible effect on your testing abilities. Furthermore, “one older study found that listening to music allowed test takers to complete more questions in the time allotted, and get more answers right. More recent research suggests that whether or not music improves cognitive function depends on whether the music first improves a person’s emotional state” (Christ). Take yourself on a mental vacation to your happy place, head to the NCBE Practice Exams tab, take a practice exam, and check out your score and timing analytics after. Even though you can’t crank up your playlist on actual exam day, you can condition yourself to think and answer questions quicker than the given time.

So what is your ideal study playlist? First, assess whether the playlist brings you joy. If not, pick a new one. Second, set the vibe either calming or invigorating. Third, remember not to distract yourself with too many lyrics or songs that make you get up and dance. Here are some of the AdaptiBar Team’s Spotify favorites to hunker down with:

  • Peaceful Piano – for those who like classical
  • Brain Food – for those who like electronic
  • Deep Focus – for calm atmospheric music
  • Your Favorite Coffeehouse – for those who like mellow indie songs
  • Confidence Boost – for upbeat songs with a positive vibe

…or take a quiz and see if Buzzfeed can guess your taste in music!

BONUS STUDY HACK: Although Bluetooth headphones are overtaking their classic wired counterpart, you might consider using traditional earbuds that, quite literally, anchor you to your computer. If you find yourself always wandering away from the screen, plug in and stay on task.

Works Cited

Baker, Mitzi. “Music Moves Brain to Pay Attention.” Stanford School of Medicine. Stanford School of Medicine, 01 Aug. 2007. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

Christ, Scott. “20 Surprising, Science-backed Health Benefits of Music.” USA Today. Gannett, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

McIntyre, Hugh. “Americans Are Spending More Time Listening To Music Than Ever Before.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Nov. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2017/11/09/americans-are-spending-more-time-listening-to-music-than-ever-before/#12bdddd2f7f8.

“The Benefits of Studying with Music.” Florida National University, 29 Mar. 2019, www.fnu.edu/benefits-studying-music/.

“Stress.” University of Maryland Medical Center. University of Maryland Medical Center, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

“Study Finds Brain Hub That Links Music, Memory and Emotion :: UC Davis News & Information.” UC Davis News & Information. UC Davis, 23 Feb. 2009. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

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