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After a wild semester, finals are, for better or worse, upon us. Exam season is a whirlwind of stress, studying, and sleepless nights. But there is one thing that can perhaps alleviate these stressors times: a perfect study playlist. This playlist ought to be interesting without distraction, motivational without brashness, and calming without sending you to sleep. All in all, it’s a tall order. To boot, there is no universal study playlist. Individual studiers have individual musical needs, and no one playlist will accommodate all of them. Recognizing what kind of studier you are and what kind of music gets you working is so helpful in dealing with this time of year. So, here are a few avenues to consider in crafting your perfect late night cramming soundtrack!

The classics

Tried and true, lo-fi hip hop beats are a staple in this genre. If you’re a twenty-first century student, it’s exceedingly likely that you’ll recognize the animated girl studying by a window accompanying this never-ending stream of lo-fi hip hop on YouTube. This stream, and the larger genre it draws from, is perfect for its wordless, relaxing vibe. It won’t get too distracting and it’s a comfortable background for this type of work. Tangentially related is a time-honored genre: classical music. Sure, that’s a broad category, but if you’re looking for the same peaceful kind of ambience that lo-fi provides, throw on some gentle piano sonatas and get busy. There’s a lot to explore here, but luckily there are already a lot of compilations to get you started.

Mellow lyrical

If lo-fi and classical genres are a bit too boring for you, you might want to try out some music with lyrics. Here, it’s better if these songs come from within your established taste. Consider curating a playlist of softer songs you are already familiar with to keep potential distraction low. Be careful here, though, because the introduction of lyrics and words could threaten focus. It’s all about knowing yourself as a learner and constructing a study environment around that!

Keeping it quiet

In the vein of knowing yourself, it is important to acknowledge when something does not work. And for some students, achieving the clear focus of a good study session is impossible with music. Ultimately, the work is more important than the tunes, and if your best work is produced in total silence, chase that quiet! There’s always time for bangers later.


A direct opposite of the silent studiers are the ones who need an unending barrage of noise to drown out everything else. Sometimes, effect heavy music like shoegaze or fast-paced music like rap will contribute to a sometimes frenzied, but often effective, method of study.  The loudness and energy of this kind of music is motivation for some learners, and helps cut out everything other than the school work being done.

Unconventional concentration boosters

It may sound odd at first, but some students swear by studying with the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. It makes sense; this music was written to help players focus on completing tasks within the game. Apply that to schoolwork, and your concentration can notably increase. Game soundtracks span many genres, and parsing through these could prove worth it!

All in all, a perfect study playlist will change from student to student. But if you’re having trouble, consider any of these five starting points and get studying! We hope your exam season goes well!

Clarissa Melendez

Columbia Barnard '24

Clarissa Melendez is a freshman at Barnard College, where she studies Art History. She loves books and movies and spends her time in Austin, Texas making collages and driving her 2003 Toyota 4Runner to the video store.
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