Colour-blind to study aids?
February 6, 2014 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Do you study similarly to me? What else works for you?

So, I'm in college, Medieval Languages major. As I go through semesters, I understand more and more about which study techniques actually work to keep information in my brain. But some stuff really doesn't work at all.

For instance, I might have a 10 page article to read/understand/remember key info from. If I write out a summary of each paragraph (in blue or black pen only), the article stays in my head forever. But, if I then apply different colour highlighters to parts of my handwritten summary, it's like I can't 'see' the text and I've a really hard time even reading back over what I've written. I feel, once colour is applied or if the page is 'pretty-fied' in any way, the notes are somehow useless. Mindmaps are similarly impossible to concentrate on. This feels weird because I can design my own knitting patterns and have no problem with colour or charts then.

Also, listening to a lecture or its recording is close to useless as well (never could get into podcasts or audiobooks either, which is a shame). I think just physically writing things down (but not colouring them any?) works best for me. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction and calmness from knowing an article is all summarised in my own way.

What other study methods work if the above applies to you? Is there some kind of name or distinction for this type of study? I have a feeling there's a right/left brain thing going on when it comes to colour + words, but don't know anything more about it.

[[NB: highlighters are applied to notes in an ordered manner. Like, yellow for key names/dates, blue for direct phrases from the article, pink for stuff to check out later. So, there was a method to my madness]]
posted by Chorus to Education (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It seems to me that you're a kinesthetic learner. You learn by doing something. Some people learn by hearing things, some people learn by seeing things.

If you learn by seeing, then color-coding your reading will be a viable study aid. Otherwise, it won't be (as you've discovered.)

Here are some great ideas for kinesthetic learners.

This is why knitting and color patterns are easy, you're doing it with your hands!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:23 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Highlighting has never done a thing for me except make the page slightly less readable. I was an English Lit major, and all my studying (most of which was digesting academic journal articles) was done in the form of longhand notes exactly like you're doing. During lectures, I just summarized what the professor was saying. I don't think I ever used a note-taking/studying "method" outside of that, or if I did, it didn't work better than writing out summaries.

For what it's worth, in order to actually absorb any content from a podcast or audiobook I have to really sit down and actively listen to it. I've made it through exactly one audibook in my life and I had already read the book-book about a half-dozen times at that point. When I tried with a book I hadn't read, I had to rewind constantly and just gave up.
posted by griphus at 1:30 PM on February 6, 2014

Highlighters never worked well for me either. What did work for me was to distill my notes down further, so what I may have highlighted would instead be one of the items in my distilled notes. By the time I'd go through a round or two of this, I'd have everything either memorized or filed into a hierarchy that I was comfortable with.
posted by gimli at 1:32 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was taking an LSAT prep course back in 1989, I was given a method to use for the reading comp section. I thought at the time, well ha, who needs it, I'm a great reader, but this reading comp was seriously the most dense crap I had ever read and ever would read until I got to some Supreme Court decisions on first amendment issues.

Anyway, their method not only worked for the LSAT but served me well in law school. It is extremely similar to what you said and here is their method and rationale.

When you are given something to read, randomly mark it off into sections of about 5 lines each. Then read only those five lines. Then in the margin summarize the five lines in a couple of words that do not appear in the text.

They said if you use words that are in the text, it goes in and out of your head without being processed and assimilated. But if you have to think hard enough about it to come up with new words that say the same thing, you will have processed it and you understand it.

Highlighting is an enormous waste.

I also have a hard time learning auditorily, although I've gotten better over the years.

For vocabulary, foreign languages, the elements of crimes, the exceptions to the hearsay rule, and other things that are subject to rote memorization: Flash cards. Those damn things have saved my butt time after time.

Which is good. Because one needs one's butt.
posted by janey47 at 1:45 PM on February 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

For me, index cards are the best way to do this because I can organize and shuffle and reorganize them (depending on need) but it still also gets my brain to do the thing that it needs to do (write/read/recall). You can even get color coded index cards to help with the organization.
posted by jph at 1:46 PM on February 6, 2014

I admit to getting a bit teary-eyed when I read what a kinaesthetic learner was :) It's me to a T and a bit of a light bulb moment. I used be a huge fidgeter, but can concentrate like a badass once I'm chewing gum.

The knitting observation was a total light bulb moment, too.

I just want to ask, for those that mentioned flash cards, I never had any luck with them. I think in part it's because I get very nervous when using flash cards, almost like performance anxiety? It's a similar feeling to when I did piano scales with both hands, oddly enough, a (unfounded) feeling that I must do it perfect first time. This is probably a whole other issue though, and best reserved for a future AskMe ;)

Anyway, I hope others keep on chiming in with rewriting/summarising and kinaesthetic learning tips. And how highlighting was no help. I'd love to know how people 'calm down' around flashcards? I'm actually sweating a little thinking of them.
posted by Chorus at 1:56 PM on February 6, 2014

You know, you don't have to use highlighters or flash cards if those study methods don't work for you.

Also, it's OK to fidget when you study. Find something you like to fidget with for your hands.
posted by yohko at 1:59 PM on February 6, 2014

I'd love to know how people 'calm down' around flashcards?

So apparently I lied above, because I remember using flashcards for non-lit courses.

I was nervous about them at first as well, but after you write them, the very first time you go through them, there will be a bunch you know. So you can put those aside, and you have a little pile of "done" ones. Then go through the flash cards and when you confidently know one, put it in the pile. That pile gets bigger, the pile to memorize gets smaller, and eventually you have a pile of cards you know. Then you start again, except this time that first go-around pile is bigger. Keep doing it and eventually every card will be in that first pile and you can be confident you know the material.
posted by griphus at 2:02 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

For me, I think of flash cards as a fun game. There's no real pressure for me because if I get an answer wrong, I just put the card at the bottom of the stack (or stick it randomly into the middle) and give myself another chance later. And another and another until what I've written as the "answer" on the back just comes bouncing into my mind as soon as I see the question.

Also, writing the question and answer down in itself helps to put the information in my brain.

My music teacher used to tell me to practice my instrument right before going to bed and that would help me play whatever piece I was learning better the following day. She was right, so I applied that theory to flash card learning, too.
posted by janey47 at 2:03 PM on February 6, 2014

I learn by writing too, and the only thing I've used flashcards for is making the ultra-distilled version of notes to read over right before an exam – like, that morning or in the 30 minutes before it starts. Flashcards make me panic and they don't help me.

I don't use highlighters, but I do use symbols for stuff like person, thing to look up online (squiggly mouse!), books to borrow/order (little book), and other stuff specific to what I studied (architecture and computer science, so a little house for buildings, etc). This isn't really a memory aid so much as a way to pick out a to-do list afterwards. For memory, if there's a recurring structured thing in a section, I'll write them out in a standard format and I might make a table to compare them so that my brain's stepping through differentiating them.

YMMV, but I found that giving up on memorising/testing what I'd memorised and instead immersing myself in picking the right content and ploughing through writing very long notes (never to be read) has the best results in terms of retention and exam performance.

(For notes made with later reference in mind, it's all computer-based and in a searchable 'notebook' format in an application like Evernote or Scrivener, but memorising is longhand.)
posted by carbide at 2:26 PM on February 6, 2014

Kinesthetic learning style sounds right -- I'm visual/kinesthetic and in terms of flashcards, making them always helped me as much as or more than using them afterwards. There are other types of things like that too that will give you something to do with your hands if you want to use them yourself; some of these are elementary school stuff but you can use whatever content you want.

For example, fold a piece of thick paper or cardstock in half the hot dog way, glue the together up to an inch away from the fold, and cut flaps in one side, then write a question or term on the outside and the answer or definition on the inside. They're like flashcards but less intimidating, making them will give you something to do with your hands, and using them has an extra physical component because you can raise and lower the little flaps. They're also less intimidating than flashcards and you can keep a bunch of information on a subject on one sheet of paper which can help you with organizing.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:28 PM on February 6, 2014

I am a kinaesthetic learner too, but oddly I've found that note taking is a great way to remember. I take a ton of notes when hearing a lecture, practically transcribing the lecture. THen when I get home, I tend to transcribe those notes into a fair copy. The two transcriptions both keep me moving and embed the content in my brain. For decades in fact.

So just because you've written your notes once doesn't mean the best way to study them is to highlight them. It might be to rewrite them out again. It might be to transcribe the ideas on index cards and move them around into different clusters and configurations that seem connected to you. It might be to post them onto a wall in a big grid and reread them there. Always be trying to find a way to embody your study process.
posted by Miko at 2:44 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a "kinesthetic" studier too, and handwritten notes is my #1 thing, even if I never refer back to them. Flashcards have never really worked for me either, I think because it's more visual and passive? But writing out word/definition by hand just on regular notepaper works really well -- the same thing I would write out on a flashcard, just not bothering with the cards part, because the key point is the writing. It's a little bit like writing out "lines" as punishment and seems a bit silly, but for me it works better than flashcards.

When I have to learn by listening (and I'm not taking handwritten notes), it really, REALLY helps me to embroider while I listen. A relatively mindless form of embroidery where I don't have to stop and decipher patterns but can just keep my hands steadily busy. So knitting WHILE you listen to an audio book or a lecture or in a discussion group or review group might help ... when you can get away with it. Because boy do people get weird if you start trying to knit in class. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:50 PM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm this kind of learn too. Lots of excellent advice. One alternative to highlighting that works for me is to "engage" with the text. So I underline things and make marks and write all kinds of notes in the margins of my books. It's not quite as good as writing out your own summary, but it's loads better than highlighting or doing nothing.

I've also found that doodling and taking notes while listening to lectures (or now, business meetings) helps me retain information. It's just the act of writing things down that helps me, not necessarily referring back to the notes.

By all means, discard any study techniques that don't work for you! Studying is at its heart a practical problem in some ways. If flashcards don't help and you've given them a good try, don't do them! Who cares what anyone says as long as you're getting the grades and learning the material. You have better (and more efficient) ways to spend your time.
posted by purple_bird at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2014

I think I probably approach flashcards and music practice much the same way - so this might just be a personality thing. The phrase I keep repeating to myself in both situations is "get more right this time than you got right last time." That may sound like a pretty low bar, but frankly the goal with flashcards isn't perfection during the process. The process of writing and then reviewing, and then shuffling, and reviewing, and then waiting and then reviewing strengthens the memory pathways (totally not actual neurology here) and reinforces the mnemonic tools that you will eventually use to internalize the information and be able to spit it out later.

I did this prepping for the essay portion of the bar exam. I knew I would need to spit out certain pre-fabricated chunks of law. The sheer amount of information that went into each of those chunks was just so overwhelming that I could never hope to memorize it all and get it right. And certainly not on the first round! So in that sense, I already had to calm down about it because that's just being practical.

What you might try doing is REWRITING index cards that you're having a hard time with. Sometimes, for me, rewriting an index card is more helpful than reviewing it. If it just isn't sinking in, I copy the information down again. For me (a somewhat more visual learner) the spatial organization of the information on the card can be very important. So if writing it one way didn't work, then maybe try writing it another way. I think for kinesthetic learners, spatial relationships can also be very helpful for remembering things. So that might aid you a bit in getting to a calmer place with cards! Good luck!
posted by jph at 8:09 AM on February 10, 2014

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