Do you have problems learning? Can't pass those tests? It may be that you (and your teachers) aren't tuning into the most effective way of learning for you. Here are some ideas and tricks you can play on your brain that will help.


Know Your Style

  1. Figure out your learning style. In order to start learning effectively, it's imperative that you know how you learn. There are three types of learning styles and most people fall clearly into one category. Even if you are about evenly split between two, it's advantageous to know what doesn't work as well.
    • Visual learners learn primarily by seeing and watching. They tend to sit in front of the class, are neat and clean, and often close their eyes to remember or visualize something. They benefit from images, illustrations, videos, colors, and prefer to see the content they are learning.
    • Aural learners are more successful in learning by hearing and listening. They often sit where they can hear, but not necessarily where they can see, hum or talk to themselves when bored, find themselves reading aloud and remembering by verbalizing lessons or information. They'd rather talk than write and relish the opportunity to discuss what they've learned.
    • Kinesthetic learners learn best by touching and doing. They need to be active, take frequent breaks, and are often caught using their hands and gesturing while talking. They enjoy activities that manipulate materials, like cooking, construction, and engineering and will tinker or move around when bored.
      • Which of these describes you? If you can't tell, do some research online, consult your professors, or read up on learning styles.
  2. Understand the differences. Each learner needs different things to adequately conceptualize and retain the information they are given. If a visual learner is told to remember something, they most likely won't. If a kinesthetic learner watches a movie on how to do something, they might not be able to do it. Neither is less intelligent than the other--they just aren't tuned into their optimal learning style.
    • Learning abilities don't stop in the classroom. Styles even invade the way we talk! Look for key examples found in dialogue: A visual learner might say, "This looks good." His or her aural counterpart would say, "This sounds good." "I hear you," versus "I see what you're saying." If you are conflicted as to what your style is, tune into your words--or ask others to keep an ear (an eye?) out for you!

Visual Learners

  1. Use written materials and exercises. Now that you know you learn by seeing and watching, utilize this knowledge. Write down what you hear, translating the aural into the visual.
    • If your teacher shows you a movie or is talking about specific points on a test, write it down. After you write it down, look over it twice. Start speaking your brain's preferred language.
    • If your teacher uses slides while lecturing, it's important to concentrate on the slides. You'll be less likely to remember what he/she said, but you will remember what you saw on the screen.
  2. Use boards, models, and flip charts. Take what you're trying to learn and let your eyes use it. This may involve an extra step, but your test scores will certainly lap it up.
    • Did your professor just say English was 30% French, 30% Latin, 25% Germanic, and 15% other? Great! Pie chart it is! Now, what color do you associate with each?
    • Hone your artsy side. Need to know when the Model T was introduced? Draw a license plate on the back of a car. The number reads 1011908, for October 1st, 1908. Get creative.
  3. Take good notes. Every teacher will stress, "Don't write down everything I say! You'll get so far behind!" Well, you're not an aural learner anyway, so why would you remember what they said?
    • If your teacher goes much too fast for you to write anything legible, ask them for notes or an outline on their materials. They will love your enthusiasm.
    • You could always write what you learned on wikiHow!

Aural Learners

  1. Tape record lectures. Fortunately for you, this does not mean carrying around a large dark box anymore. Whip out your smart phone, press a few buttons, and voila. It's aural history whenever you need it.
    • It may be best to warn your teachers or professors of the methods you're employing. Otherwise you risk your phone (or other device) being taken away. Explain that this is the best way you learn and they will be highly unlikely to say no.
  2. Ask questions. As you listen to your teacher discuss the topic at hand, engage. Listening to them speak is one thing, but listening to yourself speak is another. You know how it's always so easy to remember the dumb things we've said? Well, it's easier to remember the questions we asked in Biology class, too.
    • If you're a little crowd shy, do this after class! Your teacher will love the 5 minutes you took out of your day to express interest in their topic of expertise. The one-on-one time may even be more in-depth and interesting to boot.
  3. Participate in small groups. Whatever it takes, get yourself (and others) talking. Small groups force the topic at hand to be discussed instead of seen or written down and ignored.
    • If your teachers aren't keen on pair or group work, join a study group. There are always students looking to improve their grades and get the information down pat. Not only will you get a chance to talk about the material, you'll be able to bounce ideas off of each other and meet new people as well.
    • If the two options above don't seem feasible, talk about your schoolwork at home. Grab your mom and teach her about exothermic reactions or grab your roommate and see how much they actually know about WWII. When it's test time, you won't wonder what Professor Feeny said about The Catcher in the Rye, you'll remember your little sister asking you how the book was about baseball and how her soon-to-come loss of innocence reminded you of Phoebe and...there it is. You knew it all along! Just had to jog your memory.

Kinesthetic Learners

  1. Demonstrate a concept. Take to using your hands. Whether it's at home or in the classroom, get involved. Be the first to light the Bunsen burner and volunteer to dissect that cow's eyeball.
    • Take any concept and make it concrete and malleable. Learning about DNA? Grab your legos and make a replica of the double helix.
    • It doesn't have to stop at math and science. Take an excerpt from any book and act it out. Don't necessarily don a scarlet "A" to school, but do make the book come alive. Heck, grab your conch shell and vote someone off the school lunch table--everyone will remember that.
  2. Underline and highlight. A lot of teachers love to see their students take notes. While this isn't the best way for you to learn, make it work with underlining and highlighting.
    • Work with different colors. Keep a code that means something to you. For dates, purple. For beliefs, green. For theories, yellow. Get a system to make your notes more memorable.
  3. Get involved physically. Join an after school science club or develop your own learning habits. You don't have to wait to do it in class, disassemble and reassemble that computer on your own time!
    • Take your own field trips. Some schools don't utilize the resources of their community. If yours doesn't, visit your local art, history, or science museums, live theatres, and display exhibits. Educational tools are often free or offered at a reduced price for students. Most things will be hands-on and more kinesthetic than your average classroom.

For All Learners

  1. Study in the testing room. Though it may seem far-fetched, students often do better on a test when a test is taken in the room they received the information. This is called context-dependent memory.
    • A study at Iowa State University (one of many) garnered results that matched this theory across the board. And get this: their conditions were silent and noisy. Those who received the information in a silent context recalled the information quicker and more accurately in a silent context; those who received the information in a noisy context recalled easier in a noisy context[1]. No matter what your conditions, keep them constant. Study in the testing room to get the closest context possible.
  2. Keep your physiological states constant. Now that we've covered context-dependent learning, let's venture to state-dependent learning. You guessed it, you'll recall better if you're in the same state (of mind, body, etc.) than if you're not. Take a look:
    • A recent study at Bonaventure University found that congruent (the same) states heightened recall and incongruent states heightened false memories[2]. That is, in the same state, you're likely to recall things that are more accurate. In different states, you're more likely to recall things that are just plain not true
    • Funnily enough, alcohol works the same way. In an old issue of Science Magazine, an article studied sobriety and recall. Those (men) who were drunk during the learning session performed better at the recall session if they ingested similar levels of alcohol [3].
      • It is not advocated to go drunk to class. What is advocated is to develop a routine and stick to it. If you learned the information while wearing purple and on a coffee high, take the test while wearing purple and on a coffee high.
  3. Be patient. Changing how you learn doesn't come overnight. What's more, certain topics are going to come easier to you than others. Keeping an open mind will make it easier to persevere in the face of difficulty.
    • Don't be ashamed to ask for help. If you know someone who's an expert on a topic you're studying, hit them up! They'd love to bestow their knowledge on someone else. Whether it's friends, family, or mentors, tap into the resources you have around you.
  4. Find what you enjoy. No one is good at absolutely everything. Finding what you enjoy and sticking to that will make your academic outlook more positive.
    • Take what you love and make it applicable to what you're studying. Super into billiards and film but not so into geometry? For a school project, shoot a video using the diamonds on the table and sink shots from ridiculous angles. Love music but can't stand Shakespeare? Take the opening monologue from Romeo and Juliet and put it to Beyoncé's Bootylicious. Do whatever you have to do to make it memorable and fun.
  5. Watch TV. That's right, TV. There are tons of channels that are educational "edutainment." Discovery, National Geographic, and the History Channel (just to name a few) are great resources to tap into.
    • Do you have Netflix? Ever taken time to scroll down that main page just a bit? Documentaries abound! And if you don't have Netflix, there are many websites that offer high-quality documentaries for free. All you have to do is surf the internet to find them.
  6. Go online. Just because your professor speaks in a monotone, coughs, or adjusts his mustache every 7th word doesn't necessarily mean the material is boring. Go online to find the same information put in a way you can understand and appreciate.
    • KhanAcademy[4], Memrise[5], and AcademicEarth[6] are all great starting points.
    • Let's not forget YouTube and wikiHow! Cough, cough...
  7. Go above and beyond. Learning doesn't have to stop at 3 pm on Friday. If you find something that ignites a fire in you, keep with it! With technology nowadays, you don't even have to pay for it.
    • iTunesU[7], Coursera[8], and many university websites offer audio and/or video lectures. With Coursera, you even get a certificate upon completion! And it's all free!
  8. Take time to internalize what you learn. Taking gaps while learning a new thing or skill helps one have a deeper grasp over it[9]. Its cause mind(sub-conscious) and body(muscle memory) have enough time to absorb or adapt or align to the new skill you are trying to learn.
    • Try this experiment. To learn a new habit or skill quickly and efficiently, consciously practice it and then follow up with a gap or break, before consciously practicing it again. Follow this cycle and see for yourself how it improves your learning curve. For example: To learn how to drive a car, practice on the wheel for sometime (let's say an hour) and then take a gap (let's say, 1-24 hours) before coming back to practice again. The gaps like this could be called as micro gaps as they are being used in shorter scheme of events.
    • Since some skills like martial arts, programming, movie making etc, require years of practice so in longer scheme of events taking 'macro gaps' can be quite fruitful. Suppose you want to learn a particular style of martial arts so take advantage of macro gaps for better learning. For example: Go to class for few days a week followed by a gap of 2-3 days(to internalize), and follow the same cycle again. Of course you can take micro gaps in these macro gaps, like taking breaks during the class, time between two classes etc. You can use Macro gaps for even longer scheme of events. For example: going to classes for 3 weeks in a row and then taking a week off from the practice. Again, of course, you can take micro gaps in between these macro gaps.
    • The numbers above are just to give an idea and could vary for different people. Its cause everyone's different, have different learning curves, personalities, openness to new things and so on. So don't compare yourself with anyone and accept your personality, learning curve etc. Also the usage of the terms 'macro gaps' and 'micro gaps' is just for explanation purposes, so don't get stuck on them and make it a structure. Instead look beyond them as true intelligence is structure-less. Read Become Mentally Flexible for more depth.
    • Keep a balance. Don't make the gaps too small or too long. As small gaps wouldn't give body and mind enough time to internalize while too long gaps could lead you to forget about the concepts of new skill. So calibrate and iterate to get a better idea of personality and learning curve.


  • Make sure to add small breaks; research has shown that a ten minute break (no longer!) can actually make sure you retain the information for a lengthier period of time.
  • Avoid cramming the night before. You'll retain the information a lot longer if you study over a period of time.
  • Slow down. When learning, you can't take anything too fast or yourself too seriously. Learn things the right way instead of finding a short cut.

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Sources and Citations