UMASS Blog

Being a visual learner works for me – what works for you?

Everyone has an individual learning style: what works for one student, might not work for another. When I started university, I realised that what had previously worked for me when I was at school wasn’t going to be enough to complete my work at a university standard. I tried different learning styles and techniques in order to understand how I work best. I didn’t like every technique but it was definitely worth trying them to figure out how to maximise my time. I will go over some of the techniques that really helped me and I encourage you to try them: they might help you too or at least help you realise how you don’t work. Whatever you do, persevere and keep experimenting. It didn’t always work for me but eventually I understood my own way of working.

I am a visual learner. I have always been able to learn better if I have notes or diagrams in front of me to refer to when I’m in a class or a lecture. In most of my classes, my lecturers will hand out a printout of the PowerPoint slides with space to make notes. This has been really helpful because instead of just copying what was on the board, I noted down what the lecturer was saying about the subject. After the lecture, on the same day or the day after, I would write my notes using colourful pens and highlighters. By colour-coding my notes I was able to organise the information better which helped with learning it. As a result, I got a broader and deeper understanding of the subject even before starting any assignment.

One of the best techniques that really helped me in my writing assignments was creating a plan. I know it seems quite a simple and obvious thing to do and I know that you have probably been told to make some kind of a plan before beginning an essay. But I would go further and tell you to try to draft a really detailed plan. I always take about a day to plan what I am going to write in my introduction/main body/conclusion, what topic will be in each paragraph, what each paragraph will outline, and what readings/references I am going to put where. Going through each assignment like this from beginning to end really allows me to make sense of the purpose of the assignment and what conclusions I am going to make. The structure allows me to argue each point carefully which then helps my understanding of the topic to come across clearer in the essay. I know this seems like a waste of time because you could be writing the essay in the time you are planning. However, I have found that planning the assignment makes the actual writing much faster and easier, as you have already done most of the work beforehand.

I also find working with friends to be a huge help, especially if I don’t understand a concept or if they are working on the same assignment as me. It is helpful to have someone there to explain things to you, or for you to explain something to someone else: I always understand something better when I explain it to someone else. Plus, I find that working with friends is always much more fun than working alone.

Remember that everyone works in different ways. When starting university, or even half way through, take some time to figure out what works for you. It really does pay off in the long run.