Are you a visual learner?
Ask yourself if you have an easier time understanding maps and charts than large blocks of text.
Do you remember diagrams better than descriptions and timelines or flowcharts better than lists?
If the answer is yes, your learning style is likely dominantly visual.
The good news is that traditional schools practice strategies geared toward visual learning.
Visual learners process information best as mental pictures, which they can recall faster than blocks of text.
Students, no matter what the learning style, can perform better in texts and exams by polishing up their visual learning skills.
This is because learning how to form and recall mental pictures strengthens your memory and makes it easier for you to remember what you learned, easier than recalling text or lectures.
And to help you make the most out of this, I’m going to share my best tips to help visual learners study.
As a learning expert, I’ve not only worked with learners of all styles and combinations but am myself equally split among the three styles.
The only one out of the 500 people I took the learning styles inventory with, in fact.
So, combining my teaching and personal learning experiences, I present you with my best tips to help visual learners study.
6 Study Tips for Visual Learners
1) Color-Code Your Notes
Visual learners have excellent spatial awareness and the ability to recall mental pictures.
So, using colors, sticky notes, and highlighters to emphasize important information can help boost your recall.
Be it for your hand-written notes or textbooks, use highlighters of different colors to categorize your information.
For example, if you’re studying history, you can use blue for important dates, yellow for important people, green for important treaties, etc.
By creating your own system of sense-making of the text, you can improve your recall of information.
When you try to remember dates, for example, your brain will retrieve the color you chose for it.
This method of coding and categorizing the information is more effective to help visual learners study than trying to remember a chunk of information in the order of the written text.
Similarly, it makes finding pertinent information easier too.
If you need to look up the provisions of a specific treaty, all you have to do is look at the places you marked in green, or whichever color you chose that category.
So, go to town with the Sharpies and highlighters. It definitely makes learning a LOT more engaging!
2) Organize Your Notes
At the beginning of every semester, I would start with a new binder, and I would sort all my handouts and notes there.
By using tabs and separators, you can keep the material sorted based on the subject and topic.
I also used different colored pens to label the beginning of a new topic or chapter, bold for headlines, and bullet points to group similar information together.
What this does is help visual learners create a mental map of where the information they need is located.
Organizing it systematically, in a way that makes sense to you, helps you find and understand it faster than reading through pages and pages of words.
So, say you have a paper due about climate change.
You start by picking up your binder or notebook and flip to the tab under which you’ve filed your science notes.
Here, all your information is under attention-grabbing titles, color-coded (per our first tip), so you know exactly where to look.
All these visual cues help strengthen your ability to recall specific information, by summoning up the mental location of the information.
3) Use Mind-Maps
I had a student once who would draw a cloud at the top of the page before she started writing a paper.
Inside this cloud, she would write the main topic.
Then she would draw arrows branching out of the cloud, to smaller clouds containing her subpoints.
So, if her main topic was climate change, one of the clouds could be “deforestation.”
Another could be “industrial pollution.”
This technique, called mind-mapping or concept-mapping, is a brilliant strategy to help visual learners study.
By converting a bunch of information into a visual format like a concept- or mind-map can help visual learners study.
You can see how different points connect, the direction of flow of information (for example, deforestation -> more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -> heat trapped in the atmosphere -> global warming.)
At a glance, mind-maps give you a summarized overview of the information, how points relate to or affect one another, etc.
Like my student, you can also use mind-maps to plan your papers and essay answers.
By putting down the pertinent points you want to talk about concisely, you give your brain specific cues on what to remember and don’t get side-tracked by irrelevant details.
4) Illustrations and Doodles
By now, you’ve probably realized that visual learners process and recall information best when it’s in the form of an image, chart, map – a graphical portrayal of information.
So, when your teacher draws or projects an image or diagram on the board, make sure you get a quick sketch of it.
If you don’t understand it fully, ask your teacher to explain it in greater detail for you.
Use textbooks that are full of illustrations.
Redraw the graphs and charts in your notebook, draw out diagrams from memory without copying and then check how much of it you got right.
As a visual learner, you’re much more likely to understand and remember how, for instance, photosynthesis works, if it’s represented in images instead of a descriptive paragraph.
When you have to recall it from memory, you remember the specific location in your mental drawing of the cycle that you need to start from.
5) Watch Instructional Videos
Visual learners have entire libraries worth of instructional videos available on tons of learning sites that can aid your understanding and processing of information.
Lots of videos use fun graphics, illustrations, and animations to depict information.
These accompanying visuals reinforce the narration (if there is any) to help boost your understanding of the topic.
This style of dynamic and engaging learning is not possible through books, so I urge visual learners to make the most of the resources available to them to aid their learning.
And while YouTube does have its fair share of educational videos, I’d still recommend proper learning sites.
You know for sure you’re learning from experts, and you don’t risk getting distracted by cat videos either.
6) Use an Unlined Notebook
Do you find it difficult to take notes in class?
You might be one of the visual learners who struggle with translating the information being taught into a format that is easy for you to read on the page.
A simple solution for this could be using an unlined notebook instead of standard-issue, lined ones.
This way, you won’t have to constrain yourself to write within lines.
You can allow your ideas and words to take shape in whichever ways make sense to you.
I’ve had students who prefer to convert the material into flowcharts, and others who would draw large diagrams and note relevant information in the margins.
There is less constraint on unlined pages, so visual learners can give information any shape that helps them understand and recall it.
These are my 6 best tips for visual learners.
Now that I have shared them, I’d like to hear back from you.
Which of these 6 ways to help visual learners study are you going to try first?
I’d love to hear from you!
Nafisa Shamim is a graduate student who loves to share her learning styles for students with all learning styles!