Final Exam Time—Use Music to Optimize Your Mind

Use music and meditation to help get better grades

Posted Apr 30, 2013

Can music help you get better grades? This is the season when many students are preparing for final exams. Some will hit the proverbial wall in their preparation, wondering where they will get the energy hit their best performance. Others will feel the tensions building up and wonder what they might do to keep themselves from being swept away in an ocean of anxiety before even putting pen to paper. How many times have you forgotten things that you felt were committed to memory and then as soon as you mellowed out a little – after the test – you began to recall all the right answers?

Perhaps a solution to some of the end of the semester pressures is as close as your favorite music.

If you want to boost your focus - and who wouldn’t? - your first job, funny as it may seem, is to optimize your mindset.

Start by asking yourself:

• How do I feel? Alert? Relaxed? Wired? Blah?

• Do I have enough mental energy to get the job done? Do I have too much?

• Am I anxious? Jumpy?

• Am I content?

• Do I feel focused or am I scattered or distracted?

Such questions will give you the information you need to put together a musical playlist that can help optimize your performance.

What you’re going for is a flowing mindset that is concurrently calm and energized. When you feel this way, things can get done more effortlessly. One way you can trigger this mindset, particularly at desired moments, is by using your favorite music.

In my book, Your Playlist Can Change Your Life, my co-authors and I discuss the science of this optimized mindset and how it is able to positively affect your ability to organize and recall information, without distraction, whether the material is academic or otherwise. The trick is to, again, make yourself aware of how you are paying attention, at a specific moment, and figuring out which way your energy needs to go (up or down) to hit your brain’s attentional sweet spot. Using music makes sense because it is natural, fast, and has no-side effect(s). You can also carry it right in your pocket with you everywhere so that you will have it as you need it.

The following is a meditation you can try the night before your finals.


• Begin by putting on some relaxing music. For some individuals instrumentals work best. For you it can be whatever you personally enjoy. Then, consider the next day’s test. Ask yourself: Which way do I have to go to optimize my mindset, up (energizing your focus) or down (relaxing). What songs do I already know can help me reach that state of mind? Which have the right rhythms, tempos, and send the message I will need to be hearing? Put these songs on your iPod or cell phone. Arrange them in an order that will enhance the effect you are after. Play them (the night before) and visualize yourself mentally optimized and flowing as you take your test.

• If you are going for more energy and alertness, try this trick. I like using it whenever I need an energy boost: As you are visualizing yourself flowing through your test, see the entire scene in your mind as though you were looking through a bright red lens – everything turns red. Now, take a deep breath and breathe the whole picture in and feel it streaming energy into your body and mind.

• If, on the other hand, you see yourself as having to get more relaxed, do the above visualization seeing yourself perfectly calm and focused. Then see the image through a green (calming) lens and continue the meditation.

• Play your songs once before your test and once after, if that is possible. Use your visualization as well, if you need. Play your songs for 7-10 minutes each time. This will help you establish a good frame of mind for morning classes and help give you the charge you need for afternoon.

• Suggestion: You can also use BPM (beats per minute) as a gauge. Songs with a BPM of 130+ are usually good to energize you. If you are really feeling in the doldrums, try an even higher BPM. Listen to a slower track first and that will intensify the effects of the higher BPM. Songs with a BPM of below 100 will relax.

The following are sample playlists to give you the idea. But: What you will need to do is use songs that you like. The more you personally like a song the stronger, quicker, and longer lasting its effect.

Boost Your Focus Sample Playlist

Going “Up”

• Mozart Sonata in D Major

• The Power, Snap

• Gonna Fly Now (Rocky Theme Song), Bill Conti

• Sagittarius, Nish (alphazone remix)

• Deadline, Dutch Force

• No Way Back, Foo Fighters

Going “Down” 

• Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber

• Reflection Eternal, Nujabes

• Pleiadian Harp, Gerald Jay Markoe

• Every Breath You Take, Sting

• What Makes You Beautiful, One Direction

• Exogenesis Symphony Pt 1: Overture, Muse