Depending on the noise level you are trying to cope with, roll-down foam, push-in foam, reusable, and wax earplugs can all make good study earplugs.
In this post I am introducing one of each, all of which I have used quite a bit.
However, if you plan to use your earplugs during your exam or a standardized test consider this:
Roll-down foam earplugs (remember the orange squishy types) are often the only ones permitted on standardized tests, so you’ll need experience with foam.
Some test centers will allow you to bring your own, provided they are still in a sealed package while others only allow the earplugs they provide (almost always foam earplugs).
Consequently, I give you my foam earplug recommendations first:
(for other types and more details see below)
My first choice for study earplugs are the green Moldex Pura-Fit (average ear canal, slightly longer). If you have a smaller ear canal, I recommend Hearos Pretty in Pink.
In my experience (and tests) both earplugs are very effective in the lower-mid, mid, and higher frequencies in which most distracting everyday noises lie.
Why these particular foam earplugs?
Both are easy to roll up and expand slowly (!), making them easy to insert once you have got the hang of it.
They are also easier to reinsert than many other foam earplugs in case you need to remove them temporarily.
Ease of insertion and reinsertion can be crucial if you also want to use earplugs during an exam.
But regardless of whether you are studying or sitting an exam, you don’t want to fiddle with your plugs. You want to be focused and confident.
Pura-Fit can be obtained individually packaged in paper pouches, so you can easily present them to your proctor for inspection.
For Pretty in Pink, you’d have to bring a small multi-pair package.
Find out the rules in advance if you want to use earplugs during a standardized test
If you usually wear earplugs while studying and then are not permitted to use them during your exam, this can be a problem.
All of a sudden, you have to bear with pencils, rustling paper, clicking calculators, creaking chairs, coughing and sneezing, and what have it.
The problem is that earplug rules vary among test providers and in some cases even individual test centers.
So if you are preparing for a standardized test like the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, GRE, the bar exam, the CFA, etc., ask your test provider / center in advance which earplugs are permitted during the test.
- Can you bring your own earplugs, and if so what types are permitted and do you have to bring a sealed package?
- If they provide earplugs (and only allow those to be used), which earplug (brand, model) exactly are they providing?
More recently, at-home versions of the GMAT and GRE have become quite popular. The rules for at home tests may differ from the ones conducted at testing centers: in some cases no earplugs at all are allowed.
When only provided earplugs are allowed, make an effort to find out which ones in advance.
Then you can get the exact model and practice with them.
From what I have gathered, it is quite often the orange 3M 1100 earplugs that are handed out. (No guarantees obviously.)
I have used the 1100 earplugs a lot. They are excellent at blocking noise and comfortable. Great earplugs also for sleeping!
In a dry, colder room they are initially a bit stiff which helps with insertion.
However, in a warmer, humid climate inserting them can be a challenge: they become mushy and expand very fast.
They also become soft and mushy in the ear, which is very good for wearing comfort, but not so good if you need to remove and reinsert them. (If these are provided, ask for at least two pairs.)
If you have a choice and can also bring your own, I would rather go with the Pura-Fit. They are just easier to insert.
Also, if you don’t get a proper fit the first time, they are easier to reinsert.
I have also heard of instances where the 3M EAR Classic were provided. The Classic are cylindrical PVC earplugs, and again they are good noise blockers, but you’ll need practice to insert them properly.
- In addition to earplugs, many test centers also offer earmuffs or some type of noise reduction headphones.
- I like using earmuffs for studying, and I recommend that you don’t plug your ears 24/7. But, I understand not everyone can accept the headband pressure or the warm ears (if you are in a hot climate).
- For guidance on how to insert foam earplugs, please check the post How to Put in Foam Earplugs and Test Their Fit.
Six earplug recommendations for studying
As mentioned in the introduction, if you plan to use earplugs both during studying and the exam, I recommend you get some practice with roll-down foam earplugs as these may be the only ones you can use during your exam.
Moreover, well-inserted they tend to be the most effective earplugs.
But, while studying at home, at a coffee shop, in a library, or in your dorm, you don’t have to limit yourself to roll-down foam earplugs.
1. Roll-down PU foam earplugs: Moldex Pura-Fit (average ear canal, slightly longer); alternatively Hearos Pretty in Pink (smaller ear canal)
Why these? High noise blocking effectiveness; expand slowly; easy to roll up, insert, and reinsert; technically disposable but hold up well to multiple uses.
- Every student who wants to use earplugs during exams needs experience with roll-down foam earplugs.
- You need some practice to make roll-down foam work well.
- In my ears, Pura-Fit are among the most comfortable PU foam earplugs.
- Pura-Fit can be purchased individually sealed in paper-pouches (smaller and larger quantities). For Pretty in Pink you can get small consumer packages.
For more details, check my test and review of of the Pura-Fit and SparkPlugs earplugs.
If you know that you have a very small ear canal, please read the post The 5 Best Earplugs for Small Ears.
2. Reusable no-roll push-in earplugs: 3M Push-Ins
Why these? Effective; easy and fast to insert; hold up well to multiple uses; also very good if you are bothered by low frequency noise (e.g., music bass).
(Push-ins may look like solid plastic, but the tip is actually made of foam.)
- You need virtually no practice to make these earplugs work.
- They are somewhat less effective than roll-down foam but still very strong. Most reusable silicone plugs are no match for these!
- They are not quite as adaptable to different ear canal sizes as roll-down foam but more so than reusable silicone (e.g., triple flange).
- While they are no-roll, if you do roll them a bit, they go in even easier.
3. Cylindrical PVC foam earplugs: Flents Quiet Please
Why these? Lower pressure in the ear than most PU foam plugs; fit most ear canals; good overall and excellent low frequency noise reduction.
- If normal foam earplugs hurt your ears, these may be the solution.
- These earplugs take more practice and time to insert than my PU foam recommendations.
- They are a bit less effective against everyday noise than the best PU foam earplugs, but still very strong; in my ears they beat almost all other earplugs against low frequency noise.
- Quiet Please don’t hold up nearly as well as PU foam, so expect to change them often.
- They become softer in the ear canal (good), but need to dry out before you can reinsert them.
- They have the same size as the 3M EAR Classic mentioned in the intro, but are easier to insert and feel softer in the ear.
For details, please read my comparative noise reduction test and review of Flents earplugs.
4. Earplug headphones: Etymotic Research MK5 Isolator
Why these? You get the noise blocking effectiveness of very good earplugs and can play white noise or waterfalls as masking sounds; great sound quality for podcasts, lectures & instrumental music.
- They come with foam and two sizes of triple-flange silicone ear tips. Additional foam sizes and third party tips are available.
- With foam ear tips they are overall only slightly less effective than roll-down PU foam and as effective as push-in foam. However, the foam tips have to be changed every few weeks and aren’t nearly as cheap as earplugs.
- With silicone they are still good, but less effective than foam earplugs. However, the silicone tips can be used for months (or even longer) before they need replacing.
- Very detailed sound, fine for instrumental music and speech, but for me too light on the bass for pop, rock, or EDM.
For a detailed test and review of these earplug headphones, see the post Etymotic Mk5 Review: Great Noise Isolation on a Budget.
5. Moldable earplugs: Ohropax Classic wax
Why these? You don’t like something in your ear canal. Ohropax Classic are to be rolled into a ball and then merely flattened over the ear canal entrance. (Foam or triple-flange earplugs would have to be inserted deeper into the ear.) Wax earplugs are surprisingly effective at muffling everyday noises and reducing speech noise.
- Ohropax are sticky, stickier than other wax earplugs: I have found this to be an advantage as it helps to provide a more reliable seal. But, they leave a residue on your fingers, so expect to wash your hands (or wipe them with a moist tissue) before opening your book.
- After applying the wax ball, they can initially exert a bit of pressure at the canal entrance (esp. if the wax is still cold). After a few minutes, however, the pressure recedes: the earplugs have become soft and molded themselves to the ear canal.
- Because wax earplugs don’t go deep into the canal, you get more of an occlusion effect: Eating, own speech, walking sounds, and other body generated sounds can appear amplified.
Read the in-depth comparison of foam, wax, and silicone putty earplugs for more information.
6. Reusable triple-flange earplugs: Moldex Rockets
Why these? Easy to insert and very durable: cleaned (e.g., washed) regularly, Rockets can be used for many months. Good, even noise reduction for moderately noisy environments (less effective than foam).
- Suitable if you need moderate rather than high noise reduction.
- These earplugs reduce noise across the frequency spectrum quite evenly, and this includes low frequency noise. However, in my ears, Rockets are not as effective as, for example, push-in foam plugs.
- Rockets fit my ears reasonably well, and the way they reduce noise feels good, but they are much less adaptable to different ear canal shapes than foam.
- Triple-flange are one size fits many (but not even close to all) ears. You may have to try various earplugs to find your ideal size. (I have many pre-molded earplugs lying around that either don’t work for me or are uncomfortable.)
- In my experience, these and other triple-flange earplugs are more prone to sound leakage when you move your jaw (e.g., to eat, talk, or swallow).
What to do if, despite wearing earplugs, you are still distracted by noise?
Every little noise event that catches your attention, such as sneezing, the creaking of a chair, etc., can take your focus away from your reading or writing task.
Good earplugs push many intermittent noises below the threshold of hearing; this helps a ton with distractions.
Unfortunately, even the most effective earplugs cannot completely block loud speech, laughter, and loud music. Noise that exceeds a certain volume reaches your inner ear even when you have completely blocked your ear (skull/bone conducted sound).
This shouldn’t be a problem during an exam or in a library, but if you are studying in a dorm or coffee shop, it could get pretty loud.
And, there may be some trigger sounds that annoy you, even when the earplugs have made them very quiet. You may be even watching out for these sounds.
I, for example, profoundly dislike the squeaky sound coming from the tiny speakers of many mobile phones. Add to this someone abusing the return key of their notebook computer at the next table…
But not all is lost: what you can do, is play a masking sound such as a waterfall, rain sound, or white noise.
But how can you play a masking sound, if you are wearing normal earplugs and not headphones?
You could use bone conduction headphones.
As I write this, I am wearing a pair of Moldex Pura-Fit and playing a waterfall sound via Aftershokz OpenMove. Works great and is comfy for me.
In my experience, bone conduction headphones together with earplugs work very well for playing masking sounds and are quite decent for listening to podcasts or watching a lecture.
The great thing: this works with all earplugs recommended in this post.
For optimal noise reduction, it is a big advantage to be able to choose the earplugs that work best for you and then add sound.
To learn more about my recommended apps and EQ settings for using masking sounds, please read the post How to Block Out People’s Voices.
You can also listen to music, but the sound quality is definitely not Hi-Fi.
If you want earplugs with really good sound, the Etymotic MK5 Isolator reviewed above, or, if you have a larger budget, the ER2XR (review) should serve you better.
On the other hand, if you are a runner when you are not studying, you could get a lot of value out of these bone conduction headphones.
Let me know how it goes. Have a happy and productive day.