We talk a lot about the practical and strategic ways to plan your bar study. From choosing the right study space to developing a study schedule, there are a lot of things you can do to stay calm and focused during this stressful season. Music can be another important tool in your self-care toolkit. Whether you’re into classical music, you prefer electronica, or maybe you’re a closet country music fan (something I kept pretty close to the vest while I was attending Boston College), music can help you relax, focus, and even motivate you during tough study sessions.
Pick the Right Genre
Not all music is created equal when it comes to studying. Some research has shown that different music can be helpful for different tasks. Music can be a useful tool to neutralize the ‘unconscious attention system,’ which is the part of your brain that is still on high alert even when we are consciously focusing on a task. Some music can essentially trick that portion of your brain into paying attention to it, rather than perking up at every noise or movement in the background. Not all music is created equally, however; music without lyrics and at a ‘medium level of syncopation’ (think, funk music) has been found to be the sweet spot between monotony (simple beats) and chaos (wild jazz or electronic music) that’s enough to distract your unconscious attention just enough to allow you to focus.
At the end of the day, though, you probably won’t improve your studying experience unless you actually enjoy the music you are listening to. In fact, one study found that “positive benefits of music listening on cognitive abilities are most likely to be evident when the music is enjoyed by the listener.” The best thing to do is experiment: figure out what music motivates you, and whether you find a certain genre more conducive to studying. You may need to blast a little pop music to get you going in the morning, but switch to classical while you’re cranking through MBE questions. If you find it distracting, however, just stop! There is no one right or wrong way to study for the bar exam (well, there are probably a few wrong ways, but listening to music or not listening to music won’t be a deal-breaker!).
Stream Your Tunes
You don’t want “make a playlist” to become just another stressful task on your bar prep to-do list, however, so here are a few tips to make this an easy addition to your routine.
One easy way to incorporate music into your day (as long as you’re living the WiFi lifestyle) is by using an automated streaming service that picks music for your based on your preferences. Probably the most well-known of these are Pandora and Spotify. It’s as simple as typing in your favorite genre or artist, and you’ll have an instant feed of music that the algorithm predicts you will like, too. The nice thing about these services (which usually have a free version, or a very low-cost premium version with more features) is they do all the work for you. I have been using one of these (in the free version) for over ten years, and my “stations” are so perfectly curated to my taste that it’s almost scary!
As you may have heard, Apple is killing iTunes. But fear not, there are still many ways to incorporate your own music into your bar studying! If you have an extensive music collection, you’re probably familiar with how to best import your music into playlists, whether it’s simply hitting “shuffle” on your music player or building a playlist of specific songs. If you have a partner or loved on who is supporting you during your bar study, building a few good study playlists could actually be a nice project to ask for help with, assuming you trust them with your musical life.
As an elder millennial, I can also attest that there is a great technology out there called “the radio,” which I actually love listening to as background study music! There is nothing easier than just switching on the radio and letting the music, deejays and advertisements blend into a nice background cacophony. For me, it’s the perfect amount of background noise to trick my unconscious mind into calming down and allowing me to focus on the task at hand.
Whether you choose to stream, build playlists, or even just open your window to let the street noise be your background music, find something that works for you and then stick with it. Studying for the bar is stressful and can be tedious, so you should take advantage of the little things that make the day more pleasant, like music and a good cup of tea. Not only will you feel better, but you will likely perform better when you are more rested and fully present.