Teen Breathe

What’s your study style?

Finding out which method of learning suits you best will help make revision easier and more effective.
WORDS: Heather Casey Leigh

What’s my learning style?

Have you ever wondered how a classmate seems to pick up information after hearing it once, while you zone out if you have to listen for too long? Or maybe you enjoy creating colourful mind maps for revision, while your friend finds them confusing. If this is the case, you’ve likely come across someone who learns in a different way from you. Understanding different learning styles can help you tailor your study sessions to suit your personal needs, making them more efficient and productive.

What is VARK? The four learning styles

In 1979, US educator and editor Walter Burke Barbe suggested three key ways in which people tend to learn – visually (by viewing pictures, graphs and charts), aurally (by hearing information out loud) and kinaesthetically (by being physically engaged, or hands-on).

This model was later expanded by New Zealand educationalist Neil Fleming, who added a category of learners who retained information best through reading and writing. These four different styles are known as VARK (see overleaf for tips on methods for each). 

Understanding what type of learner you are helps you to approach information in the way that’s best suited to your needs. This means you’ll find it easier to understand new ideas and be able to review and retain information more effectively. Read on to expand your revision repertoire…

How to work out your learning style

Most people don’t fit into just one category, so a mix-and-match approach might be the best way forward. Even so, it can be helpful to reflect on whether there’s a certain learning style that generally works best for you.

London-based career development organisation Mind Tools suggests imagining you’re lost in a strange city to work out what kind of learner you are: ‘How would you find your way to your destination? Would you use a map (visual), ask someone for directions (auditory), or just keep walking until you worked out where you were (kinaesthetic)?’

Another way of determining what type of learner you are is to reflect on what you do when you’re distracted in class.

If you often end up chatting to the person next to you, this may be a clue that you’re an aural learner. Doodling across your notepad might indicate that you’re a visual learner, while constantly fidgeting in lessons may be a sign that you learn best through kinaesthetic methods and being physically engaged.

The important thing is to keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid of exploring and trying out different techniques before deciding what works best for you.

Which revision methods work best for different learning styles?

Once you’ve established your preferred way of learning, use the tips and techniques that match your style. You could also mix and match to explore other options too 

Am I a visual learner?

If you retain information best by viewing pictures or images, it could be helpful to incorporate colour into your notes. Try using highlighters and choose different colours for each topic. Other techniques include creating mind maps, diagrams, charts and doodles that display the information you need to learn. You could even draw a cartoon strip telling the story of a historic event you need to memorise. You might also benefit from watching videos that present information visually.

Am I an aural learner?

If you’re most receptive to information that you hear aloud, try listening to podcasts about the topic you need to revise. Instead of relying on rereading notes, try creating rhymes or songs about subjects you’re studying in school to help you remember the facts you need. It can also be useful for aural learners to have things explained aloud to them, so don’t be afraid to ask your teacher to rephrase something if you didn’t understand the first time.

Am I a reading or writing learner?

If reading information and writing out notes is your go-to technique, it’s worth breaking up your study sessions to allow your learning to sink in. Try reading your textbook and taking notes, then having a break, then coming back and reading them, then having another break. When you come back to your notes again, condense what you’ve written into sentences that fit onto flashcards. This consolidates the information even further and means you can read back over everything much more quickly next time.

Am I a kinaesthetic learner?

If you need to be physically engaged to learn information, use revision techniques like making flashcards and creating games where you carry out a physical action. For example, if you’re learning a language, you could try a Snap-style card game, where you match flashcards with vocabulary from your chosen language to their English translation. Another suggested method is to walk and talk. This involves explaining information aloud while walking (sometimes, just pacing around a room is enough). Be creative as you think of ways to include physical movement in your revision – the more fully engaged you are with what you’re doing, the better those facts will lodge themselves in your brain.

You can read more articles in the latest issue of Teen Breathe magazine.