Stressed about Finals? Try Adding Pre-Exam Music to Your Study Plan

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

With final exams quickly approaching, now is the time to put together a rock-solid test-taking plan that will help you reach your full potential this year. All of the usual final exam advice still holds true: study hard, get a good night’s sleep, eat a high protein breakfast, and keep your stress levels down by making time for exercise and time with friends. This year, consider also adding some inspiring pre-exam music to your finals plan to help take your exam performance to the next level.

Music has many positive benefits including enhancing our mood, providing a distraction from negative thoughts, and even boosting feelings of self-empowerment – all of which are directly related to academic performance. Research has shown that listening to calming music before an exam can reduce anxiety, and listening to upbeat and empowering music before a challenging task can improve your mood and your self-confidence. Elite athletes incorporate music into their pre-game routines in order to mentally prepare themselves for competition. In fact, there’s some scientific evidence that shows that pre-game music does positively impact their performance. In a study of basketball players who were struggling at the free throw line, researchers found that listening to upbeat music before hitting the court improved the players’ free throw percentage. The players in the study told the researchers that listening to the music helped them control their mood and their negative thoughts about shooting. These same principles apply to academic performance!

When it comes to picking your own pre-exam music, think about the emotional state you want to achieve and find songs that will stir up those emotions. If you tend to feel down and discouraged before an exam, look for music will inspire you to feel positive, energized, and hopeful, like gold medalist Michael Phelps who blasts “Levels” by Avicii to get himself pumped up before a big race. If you tend to feel nervous and anxious, look for music that is reassuring, like Olympic soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who shakes off her pregame nerves with “Shake it Off” by Florence + the Machine. If your self-confidence often wanes before a big test, look for empowering music. According to a study conducted at Northwestern University, songs with a heavy bass, like Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” have the power to increase confidence and make you feel more in control. 

When you’re listening to music before an exam, use that time to give yourself an even greater mental boost by visualizing your best possible performance. Imagine yourself confidently tackling the test questions, and easily recalling answers from all of the material that you have studied. Remind yourself that you’ve worked hard to prepare for the exam and that all of your hard work and effort will pay off. Think back to a time when you aced an exam and how that made you feel. Imagine yourself feeling that same way when you’ve completed this final exam.

Music can be a powerful tool for boosting your mood and self-confidence going into your final exams. Just as music has inspired elite athletes to perform at their peak under pressure, when paired with a smart study plan it can help inspire you to reach your full potential on your exams this year.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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