How Do You Learn?

With exam season in full swing, it’s important to understand how you learn and how these fit into your mindset, study & exam techniques.

Because everyone learns differently, learning styles are widely recognized in both classroom management theory and education theory in general. The term ‘learning styles’ means that every student learns differently. Technically, an individual’s learning style refers to the preferential way in which the person absorbs, processes, comprehends and retains information.

When you understand the characteristics of different learning styles and what your predominant style(s) are you can use your stronger techniques to your advantage and develop other learning techniques to keep your studies interesting and effective!

There are numerous learning styles, but I will concentrate on the 4 main categories – What I call “SHWP”


Are you a Seeing/ Visual Learner?

Seeing/ Visual learners are those who learn best through what they see, and is one of the most common learning styles.

Various areas of the brain work together in a multitude of ways in order to produce the images that we see with our eyes and that are encoded by our brains. The basis of this work takes place in the visual cortex of the brain and aids in visual recognition, categorization, and learning.

Here are a few characteristics common to Seeing/ Visual Learners.

Seeing/ Visual learners:

  1. create strong pictures in their minds when they read.
  2. are good at reading maps and flowcharts.
  3. love pictures and diagrams.
  4. like bright colours (and fashions).
  5. may have to think for a bit to process a speech or lecture.

Study Tips for Seeing/ Visual Learners

Watch videos. Videos are great resources for Visual Learners. Students don’t seem to mind sitting down and watching a video as this is something that can be done during study breaks or at home. YouTube has hundreds of videos regarding Accounting/ Study/ Exams. But be careful – it’s also one of the most powerful procrastination tools in the world!

Copy down all the diagrams you can. Visual Learners should try to make use of diagrams and charts while they study. If a lecturer draws a diagram on the whiteboard copy it asap! The more diagrams you can get your hands on – the better.

Get good textbooks. If you can, make sure that you have textbooks that use lots of diagrams and visuals.

Replace words with symbols or initials. It learns to associate symbols with concepts, rather than words – increasing the strength of association and speed up learning.

Use highlighters. Visual Learners love using highlighters as they make the important bits stand out. The science suggests that consistently highlighting certain types of facts in predefined colours will help sort out where these facts sit in your heads.

Use flash cards. They can be a great way for Visual Learners to study and are particularly effective if used with diagrams or charts.

Are you a Hearing/ Auditory Learner?

Hearing/ Auditory learners learn best while they are actively listening find conventional study practices, such as making notes directly from a textbook, not terribly effective. While they are not rabid note-takers in class, they are able to take in what they need simply by listening intently. They much prefer to ingest information through audio or video clips, or by discussing a topic.

Two important areas of the brain are involved in Auditory learning. Sound information is brought from the ears, is processed and sent to the lateral nucleus of the amygdala where the learning takes place. The hippocampus plays a role in areas of the brain involved in auditory learning through the modification and linking of memories. The actions in areas of the brain involved are a response to the inputs which creates associations or relational memories with other areas of the brain.

Here are a few characteristics common to Hearing/ Auditory Learners.

Hearing/ Auditory learners:

  1. enjoy discussions, lectures, debates, and talking to others.
  2. enjoy listening to music, and sing/hum/whistle to themselves.
  3. tend to have incredible memories for past conversations, music and lyrics.
  4. prefer to give oral presentations over written assignments
  5. may have difficulty interpreting complicated graphs, maps or diagrams.
  6. may read slowly.

Study Tips for Hearing/ Auditory Learners

Ask questions. All auditory learners should aim to ask questions as they will greatly increase information retention.

Use a Dictaphone. Using a Dictaphone (or your phone if you are allowed) during a lecture can be a great way to study without having to rely solely on textbooks. Once recorded say them out loud to make sense and cement that knowledge in your head.

Repeat aloud. As above, auditory learners can benefit from repeating information out loud to themselves, paraphrase, or pick out the main points from summarized study notes or solutions. Mnemonic devices are a great way to help remember facts, for example ROY G. BIV in remembering the colours of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue,Indigo,Violet). Go to a quiet place and talk out loud to yourself!

Have discussions. Talk to someone about what you have learnt today. If someone else don’t understand it, even better! Talking to each other is the best way to learn!

Watch videos. YouTube so many of useful & educational videos. Apart from watching the video, what about converting to MP3 and listening to a lecture in the gym or in the car? But be careful – it’s also one of the biggest distractions! And taking about that……..

Avoid auditory distractions. While everyone is different, and some people study well with music (look up the “Mozart Effect”), Hearing/ Auditory learners may be completely distracted. It’s pretty easy to tell when it is!

Are you a Words/ Read & Write Learner?

Words/ Read & Write Learners fit in with the traditional and conventional, school-taught study method of reading textbooks and writing notes. They study best by taking notes during class, reading over these notes and re-copying them out.

The angular and supramarginal gyrus links the different parts of the brain together to execute the action of reading. For example, they are areas connect the letters d, o, and g to form the word dog in our minds that we can then read.

Here are a few characteristics of Words/ Read & Write Learners.

Words/ Read & Write learners:

  1. won’t hesitate to delve into dictionary to find a definition.
  2. would rather read by themselves or to others.
  3. enjoy reading.
  4. often take exhaustive or verbatim notes in class.
  5. prefer to study by themselves to avoid distraction.
  6. work best in quiet areas.
  7. like lecturers who put a lot of information into sentences and notes.

Study Tips for Words/ Read & Write Learners

Take notes. Lots of notes! This is especially important for Read & Write Learners! By writing out notes will help cement the ideas and facts into your head. Not only does note taking put the information from a lesson into words, it involves writing them down! The greatest tip for writing study notes if you are a Words/ Read & Write Learner is writing them in your own words!

Rewriting your notes. This is the most efficient way to get those important facts drilled into your brain if you are a Words/ Read & Write learner. But they shouldn’t be re-written word for word. The process of reading, interpreting, putting you’re your own words, and then writing these down again, is the best type of study that a Read & Write Learner can do. But remember this takes a vast amount of time!

Use bullet point lists. Bullet point lists are the easiest way to put down a lot of information in one easy-to-read format. Read & Write Learners learn well when they condense information into small, easily ingestible bits.

Don’t lose handouts! Read & Write Learners study very well from handouts – especially if they are good summaries. Print them out throughout the year and incorporate these into your own notes.

Turn diagrams and charts into words. A Read & Write Learner should add as many headings and notes to every important diagram or chart. Why? As it puts the information into your words, you will be more likely to remember your own definitions, and it should let you remember the important parts of a diagram you would otherwise struggle to remember.

Take down LOTS of notes during class. Read & Write Learners should put in the time during class to write down all the notes they possibly can from a lecture. When it comes to studying for an exam, you can use your own notes as a starting place and supplement the gaps, and the harder concepts by using textbooks.

Are you a Physical/ Kinesthetic Learner?

Kinesthetic learners aren’t necessarily suited to the traditional classroom as they are not tremendous note-takers in lecturers as they are natural doers. They learn best when they are physically active, or through learning activities that involve active participation.

There are three parts of the brain that are the most important to kinesthetic and skill learning. The basal ganglia, cerebral cortex, and the cerebellum all play equally important roles in the ability to learn new skills and master them. They work together to allow for responding to sensory events, timing, controlling physical actions, and more. However, it is important to remember than unless a person is actively practicing, these parts of the brain won’t help them get to their full potential as a pattern of increased capacity in the brain depends on experience.

Here’s a few main characteristics of Physical/ Kinesthetic learners.

Physical/ Kinesthetic learners:

  1. become fidgety when sitting for a long period of time.
  2. like adventure books and movies.
  3. enjoy building models and putting things together (or breaking them!)
  4. are good at remembering things they’ve actually done before.
  5. enjoy active learning, such as studying while on the move or doing experiments.
  6. enjoy playing sport and being active.
  7. do not tend to have great handwriting or spelling.

Study Tips for Kinesthetic Learners

Use flash cards. These are perfect for kinesthetic learners given that they are tactile. The beauty of flash cards is that you can use them by yourself or with others. Simply write a question or topic suggestion on one side of a card, and the answer or a list of details you should remember on the other side and test yourself. Write out model answers as you read them!

Do something while you study. Tap a pencil, squeeze a stress ball, go for a walk or do something to occupy yourself without becoming a distraction.

Background music while studying? Kinesthetic learners tend to be less distracted by music while studying than other people, although this is a personal preference. The “Mozart Effect” is a well know phenomenon to aid study for certain people. But if you get distracted, turn it off!

Study in short blocks. Kinesthetic learners tend to have a relatively short attention span when they’re studying. So, break your study up into shorter periods, but also take shorter breaks – three 1-hour sessions will be much more effective than a 3 hour session. Regular 10-minute breaks can often be all you need to recharge to study much more.

Use plenty of examples when writing study notes. Many main points and concepts can be demonstrated with examples. Physical/ Kinesthetic learners tend to make better associations with the examples than just the plain facts. The more personal or relatable to their everyday life the better

Study with other people. Kinesthetic learners enjoy discussion. Talking about what you have learnt is often a great way to consolidate your knowledge. But don’t use this as a distraction to go out with your mates and not study at all!

As you identify the primary methods your brain prefers to use to receive, communicate and learn information, you may notice that you strong in 1 particular learning style or a mixture of learning styles!

But the trick is to develop all the methods in a balanced way, so that you’re not held back by any system that uses one particular method of communicating information. Give a few of the above techniques a try!

Combining different methods will certainly be helpful for more effective learning and put you on the path to success!.

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