American Psychological Association summary) that "multi-tasking" is not effective, or even possible. What the brain really does is switch between tasks, to the detriment of all the tasks being done.
One of the most prevalent distractions for students is music: their own or their neighbor's. If a student is used to hearing music continually, will silence be too alien to be helpful to attention?
Ever since the flawed "Mozart Effect" studies, researchers have sought to explain the seemingly positive effect of music on learning through brain studies and other methods. In one study, researchers found that slow (lento) music reduced test anxiety, which in itself could improve test scores. (1) Other studies have shown that classical music can reduce blood pressure in heart patients, and there is a medical specialty called Music Therapy.
If you like having music on, but find some kinds of music distracting, perhaps music designed for meditation can help your focus during Finals Week. In most cultures that practice meditation, its aim is to clear the mind of distracting thoughts. Instrumental music - music without a vocal part - seems conducive to meditation, and may less distracting for study because you are only absorbing words from one place: your study materials.
The Music Collection has some music for relaxation so you can have your cake (music) and eat it too (focus on your work):
"New Age Music" as a subject often includes soothing music, but some is ethnically-oriented percussive music that could have the opposite effect! We have selected a few albums and artists that may provide an optimal atmosphere:
Brian Eno's Discreet Music (1975) was one of the first electronic music works created for ambiance. His album, Neroli (1993) is so calming it has been played in maternity wards.
Steven Halpern was one of the leaders of the 1970s and 1980s "anti-frantic" music movement, with albums titled "Inner Peace" and "Effortless Relaxation."
Coyote Oldman is a duo that plays native American flutes in simple and soothing First Peoples-inspired styles.
George Winston, a pianist, is one of the pioneers of New Age music though he also performs jazz and folk music. He has recorded many albums for the quintessential New Age record label, Windham Hill. His "Plains" celebrates the wide expanses of the American plains.
Yoga Lounge includes music of various tempos for yoga stretching but can be relaxing at any time. The CD is from Putumayo, a record label that issues compilations of tracks from around the world in several series, including "Lounge" and "Playground."
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For a selection of relaxing classical music, try:
Meditations for a Quiet Night
Compact Disc 982
Some people find smooth jazz soothing. Try CDs by Chris Botti (trumpet), Dave Koz (saxophone), Kenny G (soprano saxophone) or Brian Culbertson (piano),
(1) Lai, H., Chen, P., Chen, C., Chang, H., Peng, T., & Chang, F. (2008). Randomized crossover trial studying
the effect of music on examination anxiety. Nurse Education Today, 28(8), 909916.