What is TikTok candlelight study challenge? Does viral trend work - or is it leaving students burnt out?

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Pupils are using a new technique to help them stay focused on their work for longer - but experts including teachers have raised concerns about it

For students across the country, exam season is first approaching. Whether teenagers or young adults are studying for their GCSEs, A-levels or university examinations, it’s a stressful time full of deadlines which must be met and facts which must be learned.

To help them with their revision, some pupils are taking part in something known as the candlelight study challenge which requires them to time their study periods using a candle. This challenge has been made popular by social media network TikTok, and in fact videos about this topic have over 280 million views on the platform.

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Students are crediting the challenge with keeping them on track with the various demands that exam season brings, but what exactly is it and is it really helpful? NationalWorld has spoken to experts to find out. All of the experts have agreed that there could be a hazard issue with the burning of a naked flame, especially when people become tired. If you are partaking in this challenge, please ensure that you do so safely and that your candle is always fully extinguished at the end of your study session. 

A fire service spokesperson from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue told NationalWorld: “Candles should never be left unattended. Always place them on non-flammable surfaces and keep them well away from anything flammable like curtains, clothing and furniture. Put them out before you go to bed.”

For more advice on the safe use of candles, please visit the UK Fire Service website.

Students are taking part in a trend called the candlelight study challenge to help them get through their work.Students are taking part in a trend called the candlelight study challenge to help them get through their work.
Students are taking part in a trend called the candlelight study challenge to help them get through their work. | TikTok/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg

What is the candlelight study challenge?

The candlelight study challenge is where students are lighting candles and then setting themselves a goal of continuing to work in some way until the candle burns out. Depending on the specific type of candle chosen and the conditions, this study period could therefore last for many hours. In one timelapse video published on TikTok, one user says they studied for 12 hours until their candle burnt out. They noted, however, that they did take breaks during this time and urged anybody else taking part in the challenge to recognise when they are tired and need a break.

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Productivity coach and study skills expert Juliet Landau-Pope explained that a candle is intended to help people stay on track and prevent procrastination. “You know that they’ll burn out eventually so you’re up against the clock - theoretically that’s what motivates you to stay focused.”

Productivity coach and social scientist, Juliet Landau-Pope. Photo by Henrietta Garden.Productivity coach and social scientist, Juliet Landau-Pope. Photo by Henrietta Garden.
Productivity coach and social scientist, Juliet Landau-Pope. Photo by Henrietta Garden. | Henrietta Garden

Does the candlelight study challenge work?

Students are reporting on TikTok that following the trend is helping them to get through their workload. One person who took part in the challenge said they were surprised to find they stayed motivated the whole time the candle was burning - but did not specify how long this was for. They added: “Without a doubt, it motivates a lot - but I think it is for those occasions when we have a lot of work and we have to be 100% concentrated.”

Georgina Durrant, former secondary school teacher and author, said she thinks “it’s great to see study techniques being shared and discussed on social media” as “a bit of positive peer pressure” may help some students to get study completed. She also believes it may be advantageous for some students to have a visible deadline for their study time.

Jemma Zoe Smith, founder of tuition company, The Education Hotel, said although she doesn’t condone the challenge overall she believes the time restricted element of the challenge could be helpful to some. She said “it might stop [students] from checking [their] phone or logging into social media all the time”. But, she recommends using a kitchen timer, instead of a candle, to time both the study period and the break period and keep on schedule.

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What are the potential problems with the candlelight study challenge?

The trend is, in some ways, problematic. One TikTok user referred to the trend as “draining” in a timelapse video they posted showing themselves doing the challenge. Another student highlighted how the vague method around the trend can lead to difficulties. In their video, they showed themselves lighting a huge candle which would have taken a huge amount of hours to burn out. They blew out the candle after three hours of study and acknowledged that they had used the “wrong candle”, presumably because it would have been practically impossible for anyone to stay awake and focused for as long as it would take a candle of that size to extinguish.

Landau-Pope said she is “a little sceptical” about this approach to studying as it poses health risks to the person and the environment. She said: “There’s the obvious risks of activating a fire alarm or straining your eyesight. It’s not healthy, or effective, to study for long periods without at least short breaks. It’s exhausting, both physically and emotionally. It’s not advisable to sit at a desk for hours on end either because it’s damaging to your posture.”

Jemma Zoe Smith, founder of tuition company, The Education Hotel.Jemma Zoe Smith, founder of tuition company, The Education Hotel.
Jemma Zoe Smith, founder of tuition company, The Education Hotel. | Jemma Zoe Smith.

Durrant and Smith also have worries around the trend promoting working for long periods of time continuously. Instead, they both think students should take time away from their studies to aid both their wellbeing and performance levels. Durrant said: “Studying in shorter chunks of time with breaks is better for retaining information. I’d always advise breaking studying up into chunks and including breaks for food, socialising and relaxing.”

Sue Bordley, who has been a teacher for 26 years and teaches students aged 11 to 18, also has concerns about the impact on students’ health. She said: “The one thing I always say to students is that exam results are important, but nothing matters more than your mental health and wellbeing.If this challenge involves students staying up late to study also then I wouldn't encourage it. Sleep is important for brain function, so young people need plenty of it.

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Teacher Sue Bordley.Teacher Sue Bordley.
Teacher Sue Bordley. | Sue Bordley.

Sue, who’s own 15-year-old son is studying for his GCSEs this year, added: “Just as with students I teach, I remind him to take breaks and allow himself some time for things he enjoys.” She said that although “different teens have different concentration spans”, she advises students to avoid going longer than 90 minutes without having a study break and rehydrating. 

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