Revision and Study: How to Find the Learning Style that Suits You Best
To succeed academically, you need to be productive, and to be productive, you need to figure out what kind of learning style suits you best.
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Whether it’s for everyday learning via homework, or revising for your exams, finding the learning style that helps you achieve maximum productivity will be crucial to getting the best possible essay grades and exam results. In this article, we’re going to look at the different methods and techniques you can try as you search for the best learning style for you, and we’ll also look at environmental factors that can influence your learning style. Though finding the right learning style for you will ultimately come down to trial and error, this article should give you some different things to think about and try to help you come up with a style that allows you to work at your most efficient.
Methods, approaches and techniques
Let’s start by looking at some of the different study methods you could choose from. Different people find different methods effective at helping them learn, so the best thing to do if you’re not sure which suits you best is to try each of these and see how you find them.
It’s a classic learning method, but note-taking may not be the best way for everyone to learn. Note-taking can include copying out passages of books, summarising concepts on notecards, devoting a single page to each topic, or writing endless reams of notes and organising them in a file. The problem with note-taking is that it’s all too easy simply to copy out what someone else says without really taking it in or understanding it. If you try out this method and then can’t answer mock exam questions on this topic, this suggests that you might not have found quite the right method of learning.
Learning things by heart
You’ll have little option but to learn some things by heart for recalling in exams, but it’s an approach that can help you understand something as well. Learning poetry by heart, for instance, might seem quite an old-fashioned approach, but it’ll help you feel more confident about the poem, its rhymes and rhythms, and how it’s structured. Learning things by heart means you’ll also be able to rattle off facts and quotes in exams, which will impress examiners.
Diagrams and mind maps
Do you have a visual memory? If so, visual methods of learning might suit you best. This could include techniques such as creating a mind map for each of the topics you learn about, with the topic name in the middle and arrows pointing off it to facts you need to learn. This can be an effective memory aid too, because when you’re in an exam, you can use your visual memory to recall the position of the fact on the page and thereby remember what it was.
Learning with others
Some people find that they work best with other people (this is known as social learning). Whether it’s simply the presence of other people that motivates you, or you engage in academic discussion and help each other learn in a more direct way, it’s a good way to counter the feelings of isolation you may experience if you work alone too much. Academic discussion is a powerful way of learning, as it forces you to question and defend your opinions; that’s why it’s a big part of the way we teach our courses.
Explaining to others
On a related note to social learning, you might find that you learn things more easily if you have to explain a concept to someone else. This is because in order to explain something clearly to someone else, you have to have a thorough grasp of it yourself. For example, giving a presentation to fellow students will require you first to have an excellent understanding of the topic and then to put together materials from which the others can learn. You’ll also have to give a verbal explanation and answer questions, which will force you to be even more confident in your understanding.
Some people find that watching or listening to things helps them absorb information more easily. There’s a wealth of information available in video form online, so if you find that you’re struggling with learning a topic in a book, Googling a video that explains it may be just what you need. If you’re studying literature, you might find that listening to an audiobook of the work in question helps you understand or remember it better.
Learning by doing
One of the most effective learning styles is to learn by doing. By this, we mean that rather than (or as well as) reading things in books, try to experience things ‘in real life’. For example, you could conduct a scientific experiment or see how a chemical reaction works practically. You could audition for a part in a play you’re studying, or perform a piece of music you’re analysing. You could visit the site of an important historical event, such as the Battle of the Somme. Experiencing things practically gives your brain something concrete to remember, so not only will you absorb the information more easily in the first place, but it’ll also be easier to recall things when exam time comes around.
Learning by deducing
You may have the kind of mind that enjoys solving problems. Rather than being told the answer, you may find that you learn best by working through the problem for yourself. This style of learning will be best suited to mathematical and scientific types.
Tests and mock exams
Some people enjoy tests and mock exams because they provide strong motivation to succeed. If you’re the sort of person who thrives on these sorts of challenges, you could try asking your teacher, parents or study buddies to set a mini mock exam to test what you’ve learned on a particular topic. A more fun variant of this is the quiz, which you could arrange with your friends.
Length of study periods and deadlines
Some people like to knuckle down and study something for hours until they really get to grips with it. Others have shorter attention spans, and need to study intensively in short bursts. Find out which is best for you by experimenting with different lengths of study session. Perhaps start by allocating yourself half an hour and setting a stopwatch; you may find that it’s not enough for you to get into the topic, and you find you want to carry on for longer. Carry on until you naturally feel ready to stop, and see how long you’ve been studying for. Try doing this a few more times both with the same subject and with other subjects. Take a look at your average study time within each subject and this is likely to be your optimum study time. It’s important to do this subject by subject, because you may find yourself better able to study for longer periods of time with some subjects than others. Subjects you don’t like, for example, may require shorter study periods to keep you motivated.
Some find that they work better under the pressure of a looming deadline, as it forces them to focus totally on the task at hand (the consequences of not doing so are far worse than the effort this takes!). If this sounds like you, you might be able to motivate yourself by setting yourself your own deadlines if those imposed by your teachers are too distant to make you spring into action. One way of doing this is to write out a list of what you’re going to get done today and not stop until you’ve completed every item on the list. Alternatively, rather than writing down the ‘official’ deadline in your diary, choose your own, much closer, deadline and write that down instead.
The environment in which you choose to study can have a big impact on your productivity, and as such, it’s worth experimenting with various environmental factors when you’re coming up with an overall learning style to help you work to your maximum potential.
Silence versus music
Do you concentrate better in total silence, or does silence agitate you? Try working in a library and see if you can deal with the quiet. Some people prefer to study with music on to motivate themselves. If you prefer music, it’s worth experimenting with different styles of music to see which helps you study best. Even if you don’t normally listen to classical music, its lack of lyrics could help you focus more than songs you can sing along to. Some people even prefer to listen to heavy metal while they’re studying – each to their own!
When you have a laptop, you can work from anywhere, so you can try out different working spaces and see which allows you to be most productive. Here are some of the places you could try…
- At home – try different parts of the house, such as the dining table or your room. Do you work better by the window, or does that just distract you?
- In the garden – this can be a nice way to enjoy the outdoors while still getting work done, and the change of scene may be motivating to some; others may find it’s too hard to concentrate because they want to relax.
- In the library – libraries are meant for studying in, so either your school or university library or your town or city library could provide a suitable distraction-free learning environment.
- At a relative’s house – if your house is full of noisy siblings, you might find it easier to study at the house of a nearby relative, such as a grandparent.
- In a coffee shop – most coffee shops have free WiFi these days, so you could try taking your laptop down to your local one and enjoy a coffee while you study. Providing the noise doesn’t distract you, this is another way of motivating yourself with a change of scene.
- In an empty classroom – if you find you work best in the school environment, why not see if you can work in an empty classroom (if there is one)?
Alone or with friends?
We’ve already touched on the fact that some people may prefer to study in the company of others, but it’s an environmental factor too. Some people find they work better alone, and get distracted with chatting if they’re with friends, while others really need the motivation of being with friends to get anything done and find it isolating to study alone.
Another environmental factor is the temperature of the room you’re in. This is very much a matter of personal preference. Some people find that warm rooms have a soporific effect, sending them to sleep, and may prefer a slightly cooler room to work at their best. Those who feel the cold may hate to be in a colder room and be unable to work unless the room is nicely warm.
Time of day
Some people study best early in the morning; some work late into the night. You need to figure out what time you’re at your most productive, so try working at different times of day and see when you get most done. That includes setting your alarm clock earlier than usual and seeing how your body copes with knuckling down to some work first thing, which may not sound much fun, but you may be surprised how alert you are at this time in the morning. Getting up earlier also allows you to make best use of the day, so it’s no surprise that many of the world’s most successful people are famous early risers.
You may not even have considered that there’s more than one learning style until you read this article, but we’ve hopefully persuaded you that it’s worth trying out different styles of learning to find the one that’s most effective. Even if your current method still turns out to be most effective for you, at least you’ll have tried other ways and you’ll have the reassurance of knowing that you’re working in the most productive way possible.
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