This guide outlines the benefits of studying in a coffee shop, why students do it, and how you can best use this location to maximize your learning.
Studying in a coffee shop is a great way to get away from your distractions, change up your learning environment, and maintain a constant coffee supply to keep you energized. As long as you come prepared and act polite to the staff, working in a coffee shop can be a very effective learning environment.
There is of course much more to studying in a coffee shop, and that is what this article is all about.
Why should you study in a coffee shop?
1. You have to focus
If you leave the place you live you just have far fewer things demanding your attention. If you are finding that you can’t focus in your house or your dorm then simply leaving and going to a different place is a great way to break away from what is distracting you.
2. Always close to caffeine
A great reason to study in a coffee shop is, you guessed it, coffee. Being in close proximity to caffeine always helps to keep your mind on track because caffeine is never far. Additionally, it will likely improve the quality of your work.
There is research indicating that caffeine has a positive effect on cognitive tasks. Low to moderate doses of caffeine (1-3 cups of coffee) help your focus by blocking adenosine receptors. This Increases attention, and to a lesser extent, memory and executive functions.1
If you study in Starbucks you can take advantage of their free refill policy that nobody seems to know about! This way you can spend lots of time studying in a coffee shop and you can spend much less on coffee.
I wrote an article that explains more on this policy if you are interested.
3. Natural light
Natural light is associated with numerous benefits. Below I have listed some of the benefits that research has found from being exposed to natural light.2
- Mental performance
- Sleep Quality
- Vitamin D
- Circadian rhythms
This list alone is already a good reason to go to a coffee shop for your next study session if you don’t normally have access to a good place with natural light. But there are still more reasons why the coffee shop is a great choice.
4. A different learning context
A big advantage to getting out of your normal environment to study is that you change your learning context. It has actually been shown that changing up your learning context repeatedly has a significant positive effect on test performance compared to studying in the same place over and over again.3
If you are more interested in this topic, check out my other article that explains how studying location effects your grades.
Of course, to gain this benefit you should change your choice of coffee shop, or studying location in general, regularly when you are preparing for a test or an exam.
5. Background noise
The effects of background noise in a coffee shop are going to vary from person to person. The research indicates that this is either a neutral or negative effect on studying tasks. But subjectively people still report that the background noise helps them focus. Thus, this may be a positive or negative aspect of coffee shop studying for you.
What the research says
However, the effects of background noise will vary from person to person. Some people are more sensitive to noise than others. This has been demonstrated to affect how much impact noise has on your focus.4
However, if we look at the research overall, there is mixed overall evidence about the effects of background noise on the quality of studying.
It was shown in a meta-analysis that continuous background speech has a negative impact on the quality of cognitive tasks.5 Additionally, the experimental support is mixed. One experiment found no effect when students were instructed to study for an exam in a noisy environment.6 On the other hand, there are other studies with similar procedures that have found negative effects of noise on the quality of studying.7,8
So if you study in a coffee shop it is possible that your work could be of slightly lower quality.
What should you do?
However, despite the mixed research results, people report that the background noise helps them focus. So what should you do?
Experiment with noisy environments and see what works. If you find the noise distracting, wear noise-cancelling headphones. These are most effective in an environment with continuous noise. This is because the headphones will create an “opposite” sound wave that can “cancel out” the noise around you.9
Alternatively, if you find that the noise actually helps you focus better, then this part of studying in a coffee shop is a nice bonus.
How to Best Study in a Coffee Shop
So, studying in a coffee shop is a good idea. But how should you actually go about doing it?
1. Sit at an appropriate table
Firstly, don’t be that person who takes up an entire table that is meant for four people and spread your stuff all over it. If it’s not busy at all, this is okay, but definitely do not do it when seats are in short supply.
Choose a table that has a maximum of two seats and give someone else the other chair if they ask for it.
2. Use headphones
If you find that the background noise in coffee shops is distracting to you, make sure to bring some headphones with you to block out the noise around you. Both noise cancelling and regular ones work here. But noise cancelling is the preferred option here.
3. Buy something to drink
If you are staying in a coffee shop for a long time make sure to always be polite and buy something every once in a while.
Starbucks actually is an exception here because they do not require you to purchase anything in order to sit in their shops. On top of this, take advantage of their free refill policy so you can save money.
I wrote a whole article on these Starbucks policies and how long you can study at Starbucks if you are interested.
4. Sit by an outlet
Lastly, sitting by an outlet is very helpful if you are planning on staying a long time or you never remember to charge your laptop.
If you can’t find an outlet at the start, choose a temporary study place and move when a spot with one becomes available.
However, the best option is to probably just bring a charged laptop so you have more flexibility.
- McLellan, T. M., Caldwell, J. A., & Lieberman, H. R. (2016). A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 71(C), 294–312. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.09.001
- Shishegar, Nastaran & Boubekri, M.. (2016). Natural Light and Productivity: Analyzing the Impacts of Daylighting on Students’ and Workers’ Health and Alertness.
- Smith, S.M., Glenberg, A. & Bjork, R.A. Environmental context and human memory. Memory & Cognition 6, 342–353 (1978). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03197465
- Reinten, J., Braat-Eggen, P. E., Hornikx, M., Kort, H. S. M., & Kohlrausch, A. (2017). The indoor sound environment and human task performance: A literature review on the role of room acoustics. Building and Environment, 123, 315–332. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2017.07.005
- Szalma, J. L., & Hancock, P. A. (2011). Noise Effects on Human Performance. Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 682–707. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023987
- Braat-Eggen, P. ., Reinten, J., Hornikx, M. C. ., & Kohlrausch, A. G. (2021). The Effect of Background Noise on a “Studying for an Exam”Task in an Open-Plan Study Environment: A Laboratory Study. Frontiers in Built Environment, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbuil.2021.687087
- Oswald, C. J. P., Tremblay, S., & Jones, D. M. (2000). Disruption of comprehension by the meaning of irrelevant sound. Memory (Hove), 8(5), 345–350. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658210050117762
- Martin, R. C., Wogalter, M. S., & Forlano, J. G. (1988). Reading comprehension in the presence of unattended speech and music. Journal of Memory and Language, 27(4), 382–398. https://doi.org/10.1016/0749-596X(88)90063-0
- How do noise cancelling headphones work? (2021, October 26). SoundGuys. https://www.soundguys.com/how-noise-cancelling-headphones-work-12380/
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