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Effective Study Strategies for Your Unique Learning Style

Maria Kampen

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Ever spent hours re-reading the same textbook page, trying to magically absorb the facts you need to know for tomorrow’s test?

Then you probably know that when it comes to effective study strategies, last-minute cramming doesn’t usually work. But what does?

Whether you’re in middle school, high school or college — or an educator looking to coach your class — there’s no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to preparing for tests.

It’s important to create good study habits and cultivate study skills that work consistently for you and your unique learning style. 

Most popular theories identify seven main learning styles, although many people are a mix of two or more:

  1. Aural
  2. Social
  3. Visual
  4. Verbal
  5. Logical
  6. Solitary
  7. Kinesthetic

No two students learn in the same way, but you can draw connections between how you learn best and which study strategies will be most effective for you.

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What are good study habits?

Overhead shot of students studying in a large college library.

Good study habits make studying more effective. After all, the best study strategy is one you’ll actually use!

Finding a dedicated space, time and way to study can help improve your focus and level of understanding. So when you’re studying, try these three methods:

  1. Find a quiet place where you can focus
  2. Create a predictable study routine to keep you on track
  3. Build a plan for each session to help you stay motivated

Good habits are the building blocks of any study strategy. Once you master them, you’ll be well on your way to success! Here’s how you can get started right away:

1. Find a place where you can focus

Whether you’re in a group or studying by yourself, you’re more likely to get better results in a quiet library than a noisy living room.

Dedicated study space can make all the difference when it comes to focusing and using your time wisely.

Remember: noise-free doesn’t always mean distraction-free! No matter where you’re working, make sure it’s a space free of distractions like phones, social media and television.

2. Create a study routine

Most students know last-minute cramming isn’t an effective use of study time. In fact, studies have shown late-night study sessions are linked to a lower GPA.

 When you make study schedules and stick to them, you can:

  • Increase your overall study time
  • Make each session more productive
  • Use study techniques proven to be more effective
  • Avoid stressful last-minute cramming before a big test

Instead of studying everything in one big block, break it into smaller sessions over the course of one or two weeks. Also known as distributed practice, it’s proven to be one of the best studying methods for effective learning that lasts.

3. Plan out each study session

Without a study plan, you’re more likely to get distracted, use ineffective study strategies or start procrastinating.

Exercise your time management skills and make a plan for every study session. Ask yourself:

  • What materials do I need to review?
  • What study strategy am I going to use?
  • What do I want to accomplish by the end?

Before you hit the books, gather all your materials. Make mock test questions, set an amount of time to study or find a practice test to fill out. At the end, you’ll feel more accomplished and confident you know your stuff.

Study strategies that work for each learning style

Good study habits are universal, but different learning styles absorb information in different ways. 

Visual learners

A student draws in her notes as she studies.

For visual learners, seeing is believing — or in this case, remembering.

With a strong sense of balance and a preference for visualizing information, visual learners retain information best when it comes with engaging visual features like colors, charts and videos.

For teachers: Help visual learners retain skills with different visual mediums to convey information. Demonstrate concepts on the board or through practical demonstrations, and offer students more opportunities to express ideas visually on assessments or assignments.

Study methods that help visual learners:

  • Use highlighters or colored pens to mark different types of information like dates or equations. Different colors can help you keep track of different concepts!
  • Whether you’re making concept maps, timelines, charts or outlines, create a visual representation of what you need to know to improve retention. Bonus points if you use fun colors or stationery!
  • Instead of focusing on one skill at a time, try working on related questions that don’t use the same problem-solving technique. Studies have shown this helps you find the right kind of strategy to use on a given problem.
  • Try forming mental images of text materials in your head. Bringing concepts to life in your imagination can help you remember them better. This works best for material that’s already imagery-friendly like historical narratives or word problems.

Aural learners

A young boy wears headphones and uses aural study strategies to prepare for his test.

Aural learners retain information through auditory aids. Things like lectures, podcasts and music help aural learners remember what they’ve learned.

Lucky for them, there are more ways for students to listen to information than ever! While they’re studying, aural learners should find a quiet spot so they can focus only on the sounds that matter.

For teachers: Lecturing is a tried-and-true strategy, but try assigning podcasts or providing audiobooks for students who prefer to listen instead of read.

Study methods that help aural learners:

  • Grab a study buddy you can talk through concepts with, whether it’s a fellow classmate, younger sibling or even the family pet. Put information into your own words to boost recall. 
  • A good set of flashcards can help you process information out loud and repeat information that hasn’t been memorized yet. Include mnemonics or rhymes to help ideas stick even more.
  • Whether it’s podcasts, audiobooks or recorded lectures, there are plenty of ways for students to absorb information with their ears, not their eyes. Plus, you can do the dishes at the same time!
  • Consider recording lectures with the teacher’s permission. Apps like Blinkist and Audible are great ways to digest information without having to pick up a textbook. Plus, text-to-speech software can be the solution to digesting notes or long readings.

Kinesthetic learners

Two female students stand at a whiteboard and discuss a diagram.

Usually combined with a secondary learning style like visual or aural learning, kinesthetic learners respond best to hands-on demonstrations. They’ve usually got good motor skills, muscle memory and lots of energy.

There are a number of combined visual, aural and kinesthetic learning strategies that can help kinesthetic learners retain information. But above all, they understand best when lessons can be applied to real-world situations.

For teachers: Use hands-on demonstrations and manipulatives to help students master concepts. Don’t forget to give frequent brain breaks to help kinesthetic learners burn off their extra energy!

Study methods for kinesthetic learners

  • Study for short periods of time then take a break and walk around. Kinesthetic learners often have lots of excess energy to burn off.
  • Move around the room while you study. Whether it’s pacing in circles or working at a standing desk, staying active can help you stay engaged and boost retention.
  • Start multitasking, but not with your phone. Keep something around that engages your body while you work, like a stress ball. You can also try bouncing a tennis ball or tapping your pencil.
  • Draw out important concepts with a mind map to make physical connections between ideas. Underline your notes or re-write lecture notes in your own words to connect physical actions with information.

Verbal learners

A female student stands in a library and gives a presentation to fellow classmates.

Verbal learners retain information best when using spoken or written materials — but that doesn’t mean they’re all talk and no action!

Talking or writing through problems and participating in class discussions help verbal learners retain information. Verbal learners also prefer to read instructions or debate instead of watching a demonstration at the front of the class.

For teachers: To keep verbal learners engaged, encourage them to read questions and texts out loud for the class, and have frequent class discussions. Presentations are also a great way to give them the chance to ask questions and dive deeper into the topic.

Study methods for verbal learners:

  • Use mnemonic devices to aid with memorization. Whether it’s rhymes, acronyms or short stories, these verbal shortcuts can help you remember information more effectively.
  • When you’re in class, focus on asking questions and listening carefully. Instead of obsessively taking notes, try recording the lecture and use the recordings to fill in your notes later.
  • Gather a study group to go over notes and have discussions that get to the heart of concepts. Like social learners, interpersonal relationships are an important part of a verbal learner’s study methods.
  • Read your notes and books out loud. Talk through important concepts with a study buddy or even in the privacy of your own room! Pretend you’re teaching someone else in order to to break tricky concepts down to their simplest parts.

Logical learners

A student in a yellow shirt sits at a table and studies.

Logical learners learn best when they can find patterns and relationships in their class material.

Also known as mathematical learners, logical learners like puzzles, data and reading to find the “why” behind the “what.” They’re detailed planners and strategists, and are naturally very curious and goal-oriented.

For teachers: Break out brain teasers or math puzzles to keep logical learners engaged during your lessons. Encourage them to dive deep into a problem instead of getting caught up in the facts, and harness their inquisitive nature for project-based learning strategies.

Study methods for logical learners:

  • Create different visual tools like maps, diagrams, timelines and graphs to help weave information together and find patterns. 
  • Ask questions and push yourself to make sure you actually understand the material and aren’t just memorizing facts. Find the big ideas and reframe them in your own words to help with comprehension.
  • Give yourself a fixed schedule and set goals for what you want to review. Consider using the Pomodoro Technique of short, focused periods of work interspersed with quick breaks to maximize your study time.
  • Instead of focusing on memorization, work to find patterns across study materials. Apply equations to real-world examples, line up your notes in an order that makes sense to you or break down big ideas into simpler ones.

Social learners

A group of college students uses social study strategies to prepare for a test.

Need a study buddy? Also called interpersonal learners, social learners thrive when working in groups and teams. Things like study groups, tutors and Q&A sessions really help social learners retain information.

Social learners aren’t afraid to ask questions in class. They’re natural leaders who make friends easily. However, they’re not always the best when it comes to staying focused on independent work — so building good study habits is even more essential.

Social learning is often a secondary learning style and pairs with auditory, kinesthetic, visual or logical learning.

For teachers: Service learning or cooperative learning strategies can help social learners connect with others and absorb information. Provide guidelines to help students stay productive and on task as they learn!

Study methods for social learners:

  • Find a classmate, tutor or study group to discuss class materials with. Combine forces to make study materials like practice test questions, notes or mind maps together.
  • If no one’s around to study with you, revert to your good study habits. Set aside a period of time to study, make goals and a plan, and then discuss what you review once someone is available to help.
  • Discuss the material with a friend to help with things like memorization and comprehension. Who knows — you might even find a different perspective or a more imaginative way of remembering things.
  • Stay on task and try not to get too social! It’s easy to get distracted by conversations with friends, but work together to set boundaries and make a plan. You’ll be able to get back to the fun stuff in no time!

Solitary learners

A female student sits alone at the end of a table and studies.

Unlike social learners, solitary learners work best when they are alone. A quiet environment and self-made outlines help solitary learners retain information and stay focused.

Also known as intrapersonal learning, it’s another secondary learning style that pairs well with visual, verbal, aural, kinesthetic or logical learning. Solitary learners are usually independent and self-directed, with a heavy tendency towards introversion and introspection.

For teachers: A classroom can be a noisy and chaotic environment, but do your best to make sure solitary learners have a quiet place to work, when possible. They’re often less likely to reach out with questions, so pay extra attention to make sure they’re mastering the material.

Study methods for solitary learners:

  • Try journaling about the topic, writing down your own thoughts and explaining definitions or concepts in your own words.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions from your teachers or peers about anything you don’t understand. After all, they’re there to help you!
  • Find a dedicated, quiet space so you can train your brain to focus. While you’re there, set goals and make a plan for studying that works for you.
  • Create your own study guides that outline the topics on the test. Review them in the days leading up to the test, and use them to make practice questions.

Find the best study strategy for you

The learning process is unique for every student, and learning styles exist on a spectrum.

Whether you’re a verbal, auditory, visual, kinesthetic, logical, social or solitary learner — or even something else entirely — there are three important things to remember before you sit down and hit the books:

  1. Make good study habits a priority, and build them into your schedule.
  2. Pick the learning strategies that work best for you, not someone else.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try new study methods in your quest to find the right one.

You’ve got this!

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