How to study effectively according to your learning style | Top Universities

How to study effectively according to your learning style

By Aisha Khan

Updated January 20, 2023 Updated January 20, 2023

First coined in 1987 by a New Zealand teacher, Neil Fleming, the concept of learning styles refers to the different ways we process and assimilate information. Fleming’s VARK model (visual, aural, read/write and kinaesthetic) has now become a commonplace term in all types of educational settings, especially when helping students determine how they learn best.  

With January exams well under way, we’ve broken down what each of these learning styles mean, plus examples of study techniques associated with each one to help you find the most effective revision method suited to you.  


Example of visual learning

As the name suggests, visual learners process information when it’s presented in a graphic representation. They prefer using maps, images, symbols, diagrams and other visuals that convey information over words.  

One of the best learning aids for visual learners is creating mind maps to make connections between ideas. Mind maps help formulate relationships between different sub-topics within an overall subject, as well as allowing you to gather your initial thoughts. The Open University recommends creating large posters and placing them in areas around your home, such as your kitchen or living room, where you might have the opportunity to look at them frequently.  

In exam settings, building a memory palace can be a useful method for remembering specific facts in the right order. Associating facts with each object in your memory palace and repeating the same process can help you recall information more easily. With a plethora of online resources on how to build one, such as this guide by the University of Pittsburgh, you’ll be able to take a walk through your own memory palace mid-exam.  


Example of aural learning

Aural/auditory learners learn most effectively when listening to information that is presented to them vocally rather than seeing or reading revision material. They may find it useful talking to themselves or with others and often thrive in group-based discussions.  

In terms of study techniques, finding other students who are also aural learners and revising together can be beneficial in retaining information. Some universities provide recordings of lectures, but it’s worth making your own recordings, including seminars and study groups (with permission from others present) which you can then play back in your own time.  

Unlike most people, silence can be distracting for aural learners. The University of Phoenix suggests playing background music to help concentrate and increase productivity. Whilst you won’t be able to play music during an exam, some studies have shown that listening to music during revision can help boost academic performance. If songs with lyrics seem off-putting, white noise or classical music are suitable alternatives. 


Example of reading/writing learning

As you’d expect, learners of this type find it easier to remember information through written words and tend to be avid readers in general. They rely on reading material to understand a topic and writing out notes in their own words. As most teaching at university is delivered through lectures and seminars where note-taking is common, they perform well with traditional study methods.  

In some ways, they’re partially visual leaners, as highlighting and annotating with colour or using colourful flash cards have proven to be useful study aids. Doing past papers as a form of revision, particularly for written-based subjects, is also a great way for read/write learners to test their knowledge and identify any gaps in their learning.  


Example of kineasthetic learning

Broadly speaking, kinaesthesia is awareness of how parts of the body move without a visual aid, such as typing without looking at your hands. Kinaesthetic learners therefore find it helpful to use physical movement and interact with their environment to better understand something. Practical learning, including a hands-on approach, is preferable to listening to a lecture.  

Although some courses such as medicine or chemical engineering involve a high volume of practical work, if your degree is more traditional then it’s important to incorporate active revision techniques where possible. The University of Leeds advises students to re-enact situations or make up actions to go with keywords or concepts if a hands-on approach is preferred.  

What kind of learner are you? 

Whilst the VARK model has attracted its fair share of criticism, identifying how you prefer to process information can set up you up for success not just in your exams but throughout your career.  

If you’ve been reading this and realising that more than one of these apply to you, then you’re definitely not alone – in fact, an estimated 50 to 70 percent of people are “multimodal learners”, meaning they have affinities for multiple learning styles.  

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong in preferring one method over the other - what matters is finding your optimal revision strategy that keeps you engaged.   

This article was originally published in January 2023 .

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