Is it true that we all have a specific study style that works better for us? How do you know which one is best for you? Here’s a little critical dive into the topic.
When someone asks you, “What’s your study style?”, that person generally expects you to say something like “making mindmaps” or “working with a study partner.” You know, the classics. But what about the more badass styles? For example, “talking to my reflection” or “short and sweet hammock sessions.” They sure are stylish… but do they count?
Ever since the notion of learning styles became popular in the 1970s, our education system has pretty much forced us to identify with only one way of learning, and therewith, one way of studying.
You’ve probably heard of them before. Learning styles, as they are generally called, suggest that there are 7 types of learners:
- Visual (learn by seeing)
- Aural (learn by hearing)
- Verbal (learn by speaking and writing)
- Kinesthetic (learn by hands-on doing)
- Mathematical (learning through logic)
- Social (learn by working with others)
- Solitary (learn by working alone)
Since this theory is such a widely recognized concept, you might have already tried to categorise yourself before, right? Perhaps you think you are a visual learner because your notes are full of different highlighter colours. Or perhaps you think you are an aural learner because you can only study with music in the background.
Is it Really how it Works?
Despite the popularity of this belief, there is quite a substantial amount of studies and research that argue people don’t actually learn better or worse with specific learning styles. In other words, going with a specific learning style isn’t necessarily going to make you absorb the information better.
Associate Professor of Psychology Tesia Marshik gave a TED talk (back in April 2015) in which she presented the argument that
“we store information in terms of meaning, and not according to a sensory mode.”
Basically, we study and learn much better when the content at hand actually makes sense to us, regardless of which learning style we pick. Fair enough. I mean it’s always easier to learn something that makes sense to us in some way, right?
So now What?
If learning styles don’t really have the effect we thought they did, where does that leave you? And how will you figure out how to study best for your needs?
Well, even the specialists that argue against the idea of learning styles recognise that we all have learning preferences. Moreover, Marshik confirms that it’s true you may have better “visual skills or auditory skills compared to other people”.
So yes, you may well prefer a more visual, or solitary, or social way of studying. You may even prefer to combine them or choose different ones depending on the task at hand!
Try it out!
The only way you’ll really figure it out is to try them yourself. Back at UCT, when I spent my weekends typing away at a gazillion Humanities essays, I needed absolute silence. The same thing goes for this article right here. Beats me how anyone can study with music on, or inside a crowded café.
If you’ve been having a hard time studying by yourself, try out a study group. If you can’t focus at home because of noisy neighbours, give the school or varsity library a try. Change it up and see if a different way works for you.
That traditional list of 7 study styles is merely a guideline as to what kind of preferences you may have. You may even prefer a different style depending on what topic or subject you’re tackling.
Another helpful tool is to get Googling study tips. There are so many interesting study hacks out there, supported by science and memory experts.
Rob White, for example, a USA memory champion talks about how a productive study session should last between 25 and 50 minutes, after which you ought to take a break and refresh your mind. He talks about little things that can help you memorise what you are studying. If this interests you, check out his following video:
We all have a study style, and neither one is right or wrong. What counts in the end is to what degree your style lets you absorb the content you are studying. If you feel you’re going to absorb the meaning of Shakespeare’s sonnet while studying on a floatable flamingo, then that sounds like a pretty cool study style to me. Or if you need the TV on to feel as though you have company, do it, dudes and dudettes. Whatever gets those study juices flowing counts.
Exams are around the corner so there is no better time to get comfortable with your studying styles. Figure out what works best for you and allow the study magic to happen. Happy studying!