Can Test Scores Improve with Beethoven

improving test scores

Can listening to classical music help students do better on test scores? College students who listened to classical music by Beethoven and Chopin during a computer-interactive lecture on microeconomics — and heard the music played again that night — did better on a test the next day than did peers who were in the same lecture, but instead slept that evening with white noise in the background.

Over the long haul — when students took a similar test nine months later — the boost did not last. Scores dropped to floor levels, with everyone failing and performance averaging less than 25% percent for both groups. However, targeted memory reactivation (TMR) may aid during deep sleep, when memories are theorized to be reactivated and moved from temporary storage in one part of the brain to more permanent storage in other parts, researchers said.

Poor sleep is widespread in college students, with 60 percent habitually sleeping fewer than the recommended seven hours on 50 to 65 percent of nights. While students may be more concerned about the immediate results of improved test scores — and TMR may help them cram for an exam — learning by rote (item memory) does not normally benefit grasping and retaining a concept.

For the study, researchers recruited 50 college students ages 18 to 33 for a learning task with a self-paced, computer-interactive lecture; and for two overnight polysomnography sessions, with the first night an adaptation to the lab and screening for sleep disorders, and the second done the evening of the lecture.

During the lecture, soft background selections were played from a computer: the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Piano Sonata, the first movement of Vivaldi’s “Spring” Violin Concerto and Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2.

That night in Baylor’s sleep lab, research personnel applied electrodes and used computers to monitor sleep patterns of both test and control groups. Once technicians observed a person was in deep sleep, they played either the classical music or the white noise — depending on whether the individual was in the test or control group — for about 15 minutes.

The music choice was important, jazz was ruled out because it’s too sporadic and would probably cause people to wake. Popular music because lyrical music disrupts initial studying. You can’t read words and sing lyrics — just try it. Ocean waves and ambient music were ruled out because it’s very easy to ignore.

The next step is to implement this technique in classrooms — or in online lectures while students complete their education at home due to COVID-19 social distancing measures — so we can help college students ‘re-study’ their class materials during sleep.

Materials provided by Baylor University

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