Test Prep

National Merit Money from Mozart?

How do you study for standardized tests? It's interesting to see how students prepare their brains and bodies for the challenges of the SAT, ACT, PSAT, Subject Tests et al. Some new information brings those practices to light.

In a message entitled "Survey: Students Prepping for PSAT Reveal Music, Snack Habits," the folks at Kaplan Test Prep reveal the results of a survey that shows evidence that teens' study habits include classical music and popcorn while prepping for the PSAT/NMSQT (currently scheduled for October 19). For the survey, 405 students who took Kaplan's free PSAT Prep Live interactive live-streaming sessions were polled online on October 8-9, 2016.

Things have certainly changed since I was in high school. Making that statement is a bit like saying that air travel is different today than it was back in the Wright brothers' day. Anyway, I don't recall having undertaken any kind of special preparation for the PSAT other than glancing through the little pamphlet from the College Board that explained a few points about the test.

Today, though, the PSAT/NMSQT is a gateway to scholarship money for those skilled enough to get a high score. That's enough incentive for students (and their parents) to arrange for structured, formal prep and create over-the-top anxiety about National Merit-qualifying cutoff scores from their respective home states.

Getting back to Kaplan's survey, which I found to be quite interesting, we see that:

"With the PSAT approaching on October 19, millions of teens across the country are prepping for the first step of their college admissions journey. A Kaplan survey of more than 400 teens who are preparing for the PSAT revealed that when prepping for the test, many students' music preferences run decidedly old school: the most popular genre of test prep music among teens surveyed is classical, with several students citing Mozart as their favorite study buddy.

"The second most popular response to the question ' What song/artist would you play to motivate or calm you in prepping for a test?' was 'none/no music,' as many teens opt for quiet while studying. Among more current artists, the most frequently-cited test prep music choices were Eminem, Drake and Twenty One Pilots.' "

I've had an all-consuming passion for so-called "classical" music since I was 10 years old, when my mother brought home from the A&P grocery store a 12-inch LP that contained the first movement of Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto on the A side and Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony on the B side. When I heard the horn calls that open the Tchaikovsky, I was hooked for life.

In fact, as I type this post, I'm listening to Mikhail Pletnev play Scarlatti keyboard sonatas, streaming across the Internet via Spotify. Talk about the Wright brothers vs. an F-35! That's A&P LPs vs. Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, etc.

Oh, the reason the A&P was selling classical LPs was that they were doing a promotion of "The World's Greatest Music" to entice more shoppers. My mother paid $0.59 for that LP, which I still have, by the way. It led to my collection of LPs and CDs that I still have trouble finding room for to this day. But I digress.

I find it interesting that Mozart is listed as a composer used to support test prep. It's alleged that Mozart can aid cerebral development. Is this true? Judge for yourself. Here are two articles about that:

- Music and Cognition: The Mozart Effect Revisited

- Does listening to Mozart really boost your brain power?

The survey results continue:

" 'Depending on the individual, studying with music can be calming, motivating or distracting, so we recommend students find whichever works best for them,' said Lee Weiss, Vice President of College Admissions Programs for Kaplan Test Prep. 'What's important is that they stay motivated, calm and focused.'

"To fuel themselves, teens turn to popcorn, chips, Cheetos and chocolate, which were the most-cited study snacks of choice. Also popular among PSAT preppers: pizza, pretzels, Goldfish and Skittles. For hydration, students also went with a classic choice: water is the overwhelming favorite beverage among PSAT teens -- cited about four times as much as soda or coffee.

"Weiss cautions against sugary snacks that can cause blood glucose levels to fluctuate, which can result in lethargy, irritability and fatigue, and recommends that students opt for high-protein snacks instead. He also recommends students plan their study sessions ahead of the test to avoid last-minute cramming: 'The night before a big test should be spent relaxing and getting a good night's sleep.' "

Music and test prep -- that's an interesting area to explore. Have you heard of The Mozart Effect? Here's some background on that:

In 1993, researchers at UC Irvine published a study in the journal Nature showing that 36 undergrads temporarily improved their spatial-reasoning IQ scores after listening to part of Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major. The story got blown up and oversimplified in the mainstream media, which trumpeted the so-called Mozart effect, the notion that listening to classical music makes you smarter.

The idea was picked up by politicians and popularized by people like Don Campbell, who wrote the best-selling books The Mozart Effect and The Mozart Effect for Children. He actually trademarked “The Mozart Effect" name, and built a small empire peddling CDs and books that variously claim to heal the body and stimulate your baby's brain. The Irvine researchers, Dr. Francis Rauscher and the late Dr. Gordon Shaw, distanced themselves from all the hype, which they said distorted their findings. ...

So, there may be some problems transferring Mozart's genius into your cranium. If you need more information:

You have probably heard of the Mozart effect. It's the idea that if children or even babies listen to music composed by Mozart they will become more intelligent. A quick internet search reveals plenty of products to assist you in the task. Whatever your age there are CDs and books to help you to harness the power of Mozart's music, but when it comes to scientific evidence that it can make you more clever, the picture is more mixed.

The phrase “the Mozart effect" was coined in 1991, but it is a study described two years later in the journal Nature that sparked real media and public interest about the idea that listening to classical music somehow improves the brain. It is one of those ideas that feels plausible. Mozart was undoubtedly a genius himself, his music is complex and there is a hope that if we listen to enough of it, a little of that intelligence might rub off on us.

The idea took off, with thousands of parents playing Mozart to their children, and in 1998 Zell Miller, the Governor of the state of Georgia in the US, even asked for money to be set aside in the state budget so that every newborn baby could be sent a CD of classical music. It's not just babies and children who were deliberately exposed to Mozart's melodies. When Sergio Della Sala, the psychologist and author of the book Mind Myths, visited a mozzarella farm in Italy, the farmer proudly explained that the buffalos were played Mozart three times a day to help them to produce better milk. ...


Frankly, I prefer the Brahms-Chopin-Beethoven-Bach-Shoshtakovich-et-al Effect. Good luck on your PSAT/NMSQT ... tomorrow!


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