Everybody learns differently. Be it at different paces, or in different ways, we all have a learning method that is as unique to us as our own fingerprints. What’s important to remember, especially for those of us who are just about to take their first step into a third-level education program, is how to best appeal to those unique learning quirks that we all have and develop positive study habits.
When I first made the transition from secondary school to university, it hit me immediately that adapting to the pace and style of university teaching isn’t a toe-dip; it’s a cannonball. University is a time of development, self-reflection, and growth. For a first-year student, that can be overwhelming. Your first few weeks are a constant slew of tempering your rapidly-developing adult identity with the social pressures and anxieties of the world around you. To add on to this already seemingly insurmountable mass of information and experiences, you must also very quickly adapt to a brand-new system of education and adjust to being lectured and not taught.
You now belong in a world of tutors and lecturers, each of whom has their own unique style and method of teaching. What you’ll inevitably find is that one style adopted by a particular lecturer may work wonders for you, allowing you to grasp the content of the course. Other styles, on the other hand, may push you further and further away. What we here at First Seven Weeks want to do is help you with tackling these different teaching styles and adopting positive study habits to find what learning style works best for you.
The logical jumping-off point here is to outline what different learning styles there are. There is a bit of debate around what constitutes a learning style and how many there are, but a generally accepted list is:
Verbal Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic
Logical Social Solitary
However, for the purposes of this article (and our collective sanity), we’ll focus on just three: Auditory, Visual, and Kinaesthetic.
To put each of these simply:
Auditory learning is involved with verbal stimuli, such as verbal presentations and information-heavy lectures.
Visual learning is involved with visual stimuli, such as graphs and images.
Kinaesthetic learning is involved with the action, physicality, and hand-on interaction with the course material (note-taking).
By this point, especially considering the behemoth of exams and tests you’ve already had to face to be here, many of you likely have a good idea of what learning style(s) best suits you. If that’s the case, then that’s fantastic! And if you haven’t quite gotten that figured out yet, don’t sweat it at all. Sometimes these things take time and patience. All you really need is that one push to make everything fit into place.
So, let’s start with Auditory learners.
- One of the best suggestions I can give to an auditory learner is to attend as many of their classes as they possibly can. Sure, this should be the golden rule for any university student, but for auditory learners, it is an absolute must. Your lectures and tutorials will undoubtedly be the best means for you to get the information handed to you in the most convenient way imaginable. All you have to do is be there and listen and you’ll be off to the races.
- Try some Audiobooks. While it does certainly depend on what you’re studying, Audiobooks can be a fantastic way for auditory learners to digest something on their course reading list, while actually taking the information in. Throw in the added bonus of being able to do this type of studying while also going for a run or lifting some weights, which will do wonders for your mental and physical health (and by extension your study habits), and audiobooks are nothing to scoff at.
- Re-listen to your lectures. Now, this requires a gigantic preface and warning. *Not every lecturer will be okay or comfortable with their lectures being recorded* It is very important that you’re open and honest with your lecturers and that you never record their lessons without their express permission. However, if you’re in a class that permits the lessons being recorded, this can be one of your most powerful aids in studying for EOY exams. Like I said, the lectures will be the most useful resource at your disposal as a student and having the ability to listen to them again and again will never fail you.
- Finally, try to work in an environment that best suits you. There’s no point in trying to work in a busy café if you can’t handle being distracted by the plethora of loud noises and conversations happening all around you. Find somewhere where you can do your best work and stick with that. Get some headphones, stick on a white-noise 10-hour loop video on YouTube (Seriously, those things are a godsend for helping with concentration) and give yourself the best chance to study effectively and efficiently.
Next, Visual learners:
- Have an extensive amount of neat and tidy notes. Be it notes you took in class, or notes you took from your own research, it is imperative that you curate your notes in an easy-to-understand way to best improve your chances of acing your exams/assignments. Visual learners tend to respond best to notes which are laid out clearly, with important points clearly separate from each other. Get yourself a pack of highlights and a Bic Four-Colour pen and use them as much as you possibly can. Your notebook should resemble a freaking rainbow of knowledge which you can open any given page and get the key points from any subject at a glance.
- Outline your work. I found this method especially helpful when working on assignments and presentations. Having what you plan to do with your next piece of work is unbelievably helpful in keeping yourself on the right track. Start your essay with listing out exactly what you want to say, and how much you want to say it. Having an outline available which you can use at a reference at any point in your assignment will be one of the best tools for keeping yourself on track and keeping your grades up.
- Illustrations, diagrams, images, and visual learning guides. No matter what you study, you will benefit from utilizing images in one form or another. I’m sure we can all remember that one time in maths class when someone asked, “When am I ever going to use a Venn Diagram in real life?” The long and short of it is: now. Bar graphs, flow-charts, brainstorms charts, no matter the visual aid, it will be of use to you in one way or another. Being able to display your work in a visually-pleasing way is a skill, and if you learn how to master it you will have set off your third-level studies right.
- Finally, flashcards. Flashcards are absolutely amazing for testing yourself and your peers. In my own experience, they tend to work best three or four hours before an exam takes place and you and your friends are desperate for some last-minute cramming, but I like to believe they work in other situations as well. Testing one another with flashcards is a perfect way to succinctly drill the information into your head. If you get an answer wrong the first time around, having that card with the answer on it flashed in front of your eyes will ensure that the next time you’ll stand a far greater chance of getting it right.
Lastly, Kinaesthetic learners:
- Notes, notes, and notes. Kinaesthetic learners work best in action. You might find that if this is your preferred learning style, then simply looking at the information or hearing it just doesn’t do the trick. Kinaesthetic learners like to get their hands in the dirt and experience the work themselves. Keep yourself busy in lectures with your note-taking and try to develop a habit of re-writing the sections that are giving you a particularly hard time. It is a sure-fire way for you to overcome any confusing course material.
- Add an activity. One of the best habits you can develop is pairing your studying with physical activity, such as running or cleaning your house. Not only will this integration of action keep your brain focused on the coursework, but if you’re lucky you’ll maybe develop a Pavlovian response between studying and working out/cleaning which will do wonders for keeping you in the best of health and on the cutting edge of your college work.
- Teach others what you know. The all-time best study tactic I’ve ever used is trying to teach your friends the information that you’re all trying to learn. Teaching others is a magical method because it forces your brain to tailor this information for someone else and reorganises it in a way that is far easier to understand, benefiting both you and your student. As well as this, being able to teach someone something that they could not understand before can work as a huge morale boost for you and encourage you to keep up the good work.
- Finally, give yourself breaks. If this is your brand of learning style, then you are dependent on action and movement to keep yourself focused. While it may sound counter-intuitive, giving yourself the chance to move away from your work and stretch your legs a bit can be the best way to ensure a successful study session. Having the opportunity to clear your head and come back to your work with a fresh perspective can do wonders for your studying, and maybe the one thing standing between you and that A.
And there we have it. I suppose all that’s left is to say is thanks for reading and good luck with this new chapter of your lives. If anything here was of any use to any of you, then I am absolutely delighted that I could help. You’re in for an absolutely wild ride for the next four years, and I hope you live your new life to the best of its potential. Just do your best to get through Fresher’s week, and maybe try to do some studying. You know. If there’s time.