Learning styles and exam techniques
Melanie Hartgill

Over the years in my practice I have discovered that there are as many different approaches to learning as there are people, however, one thing that stands out for me is the fact that there are only really three main learning styles (although there may be variations on the theme). I think it’s important to look at these different styles with the intention of finding the most appropriate learning method for ourselves and for our children, after all, they may not learn the way we do so we need to determine the best way to assist our children without imposing our methods on them.

So what are the three methods and how do we determine which is the best method for each person? Three of our five senses are used primarily when learning, storing, recalling and retrieving information. Just as we are predominantly left or right brained, so we tend to use one modality more than the others, thus we are either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners; thus we may have elements of every category but are likely to prefer or be stronger with one method. However, what is clear is that the more senses we use to learn something, the more likely we are to remember it; just as the more we use the information, the easier it is to recall and access it. What follows is an explanation of each type of learner, to help with identification of the learning style, as well as specific suggestions on how to learn most appropriately through that method. Please note this is not meant as an exhaustive list of characteristics or suggestions.

Visual learners:
These learners learn best by seeing. Some of the characteristics of visual learners are:
 Good at faces but forgets names
 May think in pictures
 Learns best from visual displays, such as, illustrations, diagrams, overhead transparencies, videos, flipcharts, worksheets, hand-outs, etc.
 Prefer to take comprehensive notes
 Needs quiet study time
 Usually a good speller
 Likes to read
 Memorises by seeing
 Often closes eyes to recall information or spelling
 Doodler
 Notices details
 Observes rather than talks or acts
 Likes colours and diagrams
 Understands/likes charts.
 Mind may stray during verbal activities

Study methods for the visual learner:
 Takes notes and summaries of your material
 Use cue words
 Use highlighters and coloured pens to summarise
 Make mind maps
 Use mnemonics, acronyms and visual chains
 Use the computer to organize materials and to create graphs, tables, charts and spreadsheets.

Auditory learners:
These learners learn best by hearing. Characteristics include:
 Likes to read to self out loud
 Talks to self aloud
 Is not afraid to speak in class
 Easily distracted
 Hums or sings, tends to enjoy music
 Likes oral reports
 Likes to be read to
 Is good at explaining
 Remembers names
 Reads slowly
 Follows spoken directions well
 Can’t keep quiet for long periods

Study methods for the auditory learner:
 Using word association to remember facts and lines
 Watching videos
 Repeating facts with eyes closed
 Participating in group discussions
 Record notes after writing them
 Tell someone what you have learned (teach your teddy bears!)
 Make up rhymes to recall information
 Repeat things orally
 Make up and repeat rhymes to remember facts, dates, names, etc.

Kinaesthetic learners (also known as tactile learners):
These learners learn best by doing. For example;
 Tend to be good at sports or other physical activities, such as dance or martial arts
 Can’t sit still for long
 Does not have great handwriting or spelling skills
 Likes to be able to do things and experiment
 Taps a foot or pencil when working
 Likes to touch people when talking to them
 Studies with loud music on
 Likes adventure books, movies
 May enjoy acting
 Likes to problem solve by physically working through them
 Enjoys handling objects
 Takes breaks when studying
 Enjoys working with hands, such as building models
 Often fidgety in the classroom
 Reading tends not to be a priority
 Likes physical rewards

Study methods for the kinaesthetic learner:
 Study in short blocks
 Role playing.
 Studying with others
 Use memory games
 Using flash cards to memorise
 Pick up the book as you are reading or talking
 Write while you are reading or talking
 Use a computer to reinforce learning using your sense of touch
 Write with your fingers in sand
 Use gestures to recall information
 Pace while learning
 Write lists repeatedly

Concentration skills:
Your concentration span is the amount of time we are able to concentrate on a specific task before our mind wanders. We are able to sustain out attention for different periods of time for different tasks and it cannot be extended to infinity. The main reasons our concentration wanders is due to boredom, anxiety and daydreaming. So how can we improve concentration skills to help our focus when studying?
 In between periods of concentration, do things to change your physical and mental activity. You could move around to boost your circulation if you have been sitting, or you could think about something completely different – and fun – to give your brain a new focus.
 Be ‘active’ in mental activity! Use a hierarchy of questions to help you focus when reading reference material or listening to a lecture, rather than passively reading through it or listening and hoping that something will stick – and then write brief notes about the answers to your questions. Ask yourself how you will use the material, where it fits into what you already know, what new questions it triggers.
o Look specifically to answer the ‘W’ questions as you work – the what, who, where, when and how of the topic.
 Ensure that your environment aids concentration – reduce distractions but don’t be so comfortable that you nod off. Ideally you should not be working on your bed as your body and brain know this is a sleeping environment
 If your mind wanders, jot down the distracting thought on a separate piece of paper and carry on

The lead up to the exam
 Make sure your notes are complete and if not, fill in the gaps – either ask the teacher or a classmate
 Look over anything you have not understood and arrange to get help in that area – either a teacher or a study group – don’t do study groups if you are someone who’ll allow it to degenerate into a gossip session – though it’s worth trying one session
 Begin studying early
 Find a quiet place to study and make sure you are sitting comfortably
 Make sure your desk is well lit
 Keep background noise to a minimum; avoid studying in an area where there will be distractions (like television!)
 Have everything you need to do your revision to hand before you start – don’t forget a thesaurus, dictionary and calculator
 Make a time organiser – the idea is not to spend hours making this pretty and changing it as and when your revise your plans – spend most of your time on the studying
o Plan 1 hour time slots you will use for study (this includes a ten minute break) – schedule times that work for you – are you more of a morning or evening person?
o Make use of short study times to review notes
o Prioritise and consider your commitments when setting up a study timetable
o Complete small tasks straight away rather than putting them off
o You’ll need to start with the subjects you find hardest to give you enough time to come to grips with the info but make sure you break difficult or ‘boring’ work into sections and put more interesting tasks in between. This allows you to approach a large task as a series of manageable parts.
o Set study goal for each session – such as chapter 1 & 2, etc.
o Don’t try to complete a whole subject in one sitting. Sort it section by section.
 Go through past papers to get a feel for the exam layout etc.
 Aim to form and answer questions as you work
Highlight concerns as you work – yellow for a confusing area – this may become clearer as you continue working and red for something you don’t understand and seek answers or help for this as soon as possible – it’s easier for a teacher to assist you if you have a specific question

The day before the exam:
 Have a good night’s sleep
 Relax before you go to bed and go to bed early
 Pack your bag the night before and make sure you have everything you need for the exam
 Pack several pens in case one runs out

The day of the exam:
 Eat breakfast
 Don’t discuss what you have and haven’t studied with friends
 Don’t try and cram before you enter the exam hall
 Take a bottle of water in with you – you need to keep hydrated and anxiety can make you thirsty – make sure this is allowed by the school
 Make sure you get up early and get to the exam in plenty of time
 Walk into the exam hall feeling confident and believing in your abilities – aim for the power of positive thought

Facing the exam:
 Read the whole paper through first
 Look carefully at the directions
 Answer the questions you know well first – this increases your confidence and keeps you more relaxed
 Allocate your time in relation to the marks given to each question
 For essay type questions, create a small plan or mind map of what you want to say (this can get you marks if you don’t manage to finish the essay)
 Read each question carefully and highlight the keywords
 Don’t simply regurgitate everything you know about that topic, try to answer the specific question
 Mark the answers you are unsure of and go back if you have time
 If you are running out of time and still have a lot to say, jot down the key points as this will gain you some marks
 When you have finished answering the question, look back at the question to check you did not miss anything out – watch out for multi-part questions, such as “who did… and why …”
 Cross out anything you don’t want the examiner to read
 If you begin to get anxious or panicky, put your pen down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, have some water and start again
 Ignore what other people are doing in the exam

After the exam
 Don’t discuss the paper with others
 Don’t rush to check your answers in a textbook – there’s nothing you can do about it and you’ll only upset yourself
 Take time to relax and reward yourself before starting more revision