You may have heard someone describe themself as a visual learner or state that they have to have something in their hands if they want to successfully memorize something. These aren’t just flippant remarks—there really are different styles of learning. Think about it. Do you have a particular way that you like to study? Maybe you prefer flashcards or would rather try teaching the material to someone else as a way to remember important topics. Maybe you need to write everything down, or enjoy reading material out loud because it’s easier for you to remember sounds.
I certainly had a study method that worked for me when I was an undergraduate student, but I had to change what study method I used based on the class I was taking. For classes in my major (geology), I liked to create a handwritten study guide, study it on my own, and then get together with a friend who was in the same class. We would verbally quiz each other on the material and answer questions by drawing diagrams and writing out equations on a whiteboard. The combination of writing down the material and then talking about it aloud helped me remember everything much more easily than if I’d only done one or the other. I also took a lot of art history classes, though, which involved a lot of rote memorization. Homemade flashcards were the only way for me to go if I had any hope of passing identification tests. You might guess, then, that I am mostly a visual learner.
Though the semantics will vary depending on your sources, there are three main types of learning: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Most people aren’t solidly one type of learner, but a combination of two or three. This quiz will give you a basic idea of what type of learner you are. It told me that I am 45% visual, 35% auditory, and 20% tactile (kinesthetic), which fits well with the study habits I described above. Take two minutes to take the quiz yourself and learn more about your own learning style.
Are you a….
Visual Learner?: As you might imagine, visual learners learn by seeing and reading. They take in written or drawn information (maps, charts, graphs) and use the information at their disposal to draw connections. If you’re a meticulous note-taker, an excellent speller, and enjoy reading, you may be a visual learner.
- In class, make sure to take notes and draw any diagrams that your teacher deems important; you will likely remember the information better after writing it down yourself. Don’t rely on notes that others have written for you.
- Even after taking notes, make a written study guide or create flashcards (depending on your class) to study for a test. The act of writing the material down multiple times will help seal it in your memory.
- Don’t force yourself to study in a group. Find a quiet area where you can read over your notes without getting distracted.
Auditory Learner?: Just as obviously, auditory learners learn by listening. Reading written information isn’t as helpful as listening to information. If you have trouble paying attention when there are multiple loud noises, struggle to stay quiet for long periods of time, and remember what others say, you might be an auditory learner. Friends might call you a good listener.
- When taking notes in class, it might help you to record what your teacher or professor is saying instead of focusing on writing everything down. Sit near the front of the classroom so that you can hear everything accurately.
- Join a study group when you have an upcoming exam. Talking to other students, discussing ideas aloud, and repeating facts and concepts will cement the material in your memory. Simply hearing it will help you retain information come test day.
- Consider reading your notes or textbook chapters out loud. If you’re studying with a study guide, talk through your answers, even if you’re alone. Again, hearing the material is going to help you remember it.
Kinesthetic Learner?: Kinesthetic learners are hands on; they learn by doing. If you often find yourself fidgeting (tapping your foot, wringing your hands, etc.), have trouble sitting still, and can’t study or work for long periods of time without a break, you might be a kinesthetic learner. You’re likely active, enjoy working with your hands, and may even own a fidget spinner.
- Get active while you’re studying. Walk around while you talk about concepts or study for 20 minutes and then take 5 minutes to stretch, do jumping jacks, or have a dance party.
- If you can, learn by trial and error. This will only work for certain classes, like computer science, art, etc., but if you can actually get your hands into the methods you’re trying to learn, you’ll retain information better and be more equipped on test day. You could even try learning anatomy by labelling parts of your own body with tape and a marker! It’ll get you moving, and it’s fun!
- Hold something in your hand while you study. This could be a tennis ball, a fidget spinner, a rubber band, or anything! Keeping your hands occupied might help your mind stay more focused on the work in front of you.
As an example, let’s say you’re trying to cook dinner. A visual learner would want to read the recipe for him or herself. An auditory learner would do well if someone was telling them what to do while they worked in the kitchen. A kinesthetic learner, on the other hand, might just gather the ingredients and have at it. No one way is better than the others.
The problem comes when your teacher or professor has a teaching method that is wholly incompatible with the way you learn. Some teachers rely heavily on lectures, PowerPoint presentations, or group projects. As a student, you have to figure out ways to be flexible in your learning style and not only in the way that you participate in class, but also the way you take notes and study so that you retain the information as best you can. Your professor won’t change for you (although a good professor won’t rely on only one method of teaching), but you can change your learning methods to accommodate your professor. Trust me, after your first test with a particular teacher, you’ll get the hang of it!