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Best Study Tips for Visual Learners in College

Embrace your strengths with these study tips for visual learners in college.

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Many educators have attempted to define the countless different learning styles, but one of the simplest and most popular is Neil Fleming's VAK model. VAK stands for Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. In simplest terms, visual learners comprehend best when seeing things, auditory learners understand best when they hear something, and kinesthetic learners need to physically feel something to fully grasp it. 

The key to a successful education is understanding which type of learner you are in order to tailor your studies to your strengths. This article will focus on visual learning. If you want to succeed in college—or anywhere, for that matter—these study tips for visual learners will help you embrace your strengths and overcome your weaknesses to get the most out of your education.

Figuring Out If You Are a Visual Learner

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Naturally, you don't want to try and tackle these study tips for visual learners if you aren't one. One of the top tips for soon-to-be college students is to figure out what type of learner they are. Thankfully, it's relatively easy to figure out what type of learner you are. If you are a visual learner, you most likely excel at subjects where images and spatial awareness are key, such as art, geometry, and architecture. On the flip side, you may struggle in classes that emphasize writing or speaking, like history and debate classes. You probably find it easy to navigate using a map, but you might find it difficult to understand when someone is trying to tell you directions. If these descriptions seem accurate to you, then you just might be a visual learner! 

Create diagrams and mind maps for yourself.

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Unfortunately for visual learners, most information in college is presented via a lecture that provides a lot of words and not a lot of visualizations. The task falls on you, then, to create a visual representation of the lesson. Let's say you've already taken notes (more on note-taking later), and you want to create a visual study aid for yourself. Some of your options include making different colored flash cards or highlighting your notes to color code them. Personally, I think mind maps or concept maps are the most versatile and effective, making them one of my top study tips.

Making a mind map essentially consists of taking your notes and organizing them like an outline. Make a big circle or box or trapezoid in the middle of a piece of paper (or you can do it on your computer), and that's where you write the main idea of your notes. Lets say your class is about American history and today's lesson was all about the Civil War. The big circle in the middle of your paper might say "Civil War," and you'll make a few smaller circles coming off of it that say "Union" and "Confederacy." Branching off of "Union," you put "Abraham Lincoln" and "Ulysses S. Grant" and continue to fill in pertinent details from there. Simply adjust this format for whatever topic you're studying.

Organize your notes as you take them.

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One of the best study tips for visual learners trying to combat the monotony of a college lecture is to organize your notes while you take them. Now, you aren't going to be able to create a full-on concept map or other diagram while a lecture is going on, but you can at least structure your notes in a logical way. For example, create a new bold heading every time your professor shifts to a new topic. Use bullet points and indents to create a visual representation of the importance and organization of your notes. You can do this in your notebook or on your laptop. While I usually recommend taking notes by hand for most purposes, a laptop makes it easier to convert your notes into a chart or diagram to create a visual representation of a lesson.

Use an unlined notebook.

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If you find yourself struggling to comprehend your notes, even after organizing them like an outline or somehow else, you may need to try some of my more extreme study tips. This tip is simple, but it may have a huge impact on your note taking and studying. All you have to do is replace your notebook. The vast majority of college students use college ruled spiral notebooks for all their note-taking needs. (There's also a handful of people who have wide ruled notebooks because they bought them by mistake.) But just because that's the industry standard, don't feel like you have to stick with the pack. 

Try experimenting with an unlined notebook for your next class. Instead of being confined to writing a bunch of sentences on lines, a blank notebook invites creativity. You can organize your notes like a mind map, or insert visual cues and drawings to remind yourself of different concepts. You can also simply write words when it is necessary, but the freedom of an unlined notebook makes it easy to adapt.

Seek out videos and books about your subject.

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Becoming an independent learner is part of the college experience. If you're having trouble grasping a concept from your professor's lectures, don't be afraid to seek out the information yourself. Self-reliance isn't just for visual learners—it's an important lesson for any type of learner! 

In this modern era, it's especially easy to find resources to help you learn beyond the classroom. Let's say you're still studying the Civil War: your college's library will undoubtedly have plentiful books and videos on your subject, but you can also find resources online. There are loads of YouTube videos about all aspects of the Civil War, or you can look up books on the subject, such as a biography of Ulysses S. Grant or other military leaders. Whatever route you take, it's important to understand that your studies don't end when you leave the classroom.

Color code your notes.

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One of the simplest but most effective study tips for those that are visual learners is to color code your notes. You can implement this technique in a wide variety of ways, such as assigning different colored notebooks to different subjects, using different colored highlighters to organize your note-taking, or using color coded flash cards to study for an exam. Color coding is one tried and true tip for visual learners, so you owe it to yourself to at least try and implement color coding alongside the other study tips on this list.

Create visual representations of simple concepts.

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By now, you've probably noticed a trend that study tips for visual learners often include drawing things like diagrams and concept maps. Broadly speaking, any time you can create a visual representation of something you're studying, it'll help improve your retention of the material. This visual representation doesn't always have to be a complex mind map, however. Substituting simple drawings for different concepts can work wonders when you're trying to remember the information for a test. Your mind will link the drawings you make to the concepts they represent, allowing you to streamline your note-taking as well. You don't have to worry about your drawing ability either, because you can use something as simple as shapes. For example, to go back to the Civil War example, you can use something as simple as a right-side-up triangle to represent the Union (north) and an upside-down triangle to represent the Confederacy (south).

Focus on existing visual aids.

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Many of these study tips for visual learners rely on you making your own visual aids in your notebook and on your computer. However, I want to emphasize that you shouldn't ignore existing visual aids. Many modern textbooks do, in fact, accompany their lessons with some sort of chart or diagram. There's no need to overcomplicate your studies by spending time drawing your own diagram if the textbook already has one! So don't overlook the help that's already out there. In fact, you may even find it useful to study how your textbook organizes its visual aids as a guide for when you have to create your own.

Use a highlighter.

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Another one of the simplest study tips if you're a visual learners is to use a highlighter in your studies. You can color code your highlighters if you want, using neon pink, blue, and yellow to represent different aspects of a topic. However, it is immensely useful to have even a single highlighter, marking the most important words and phrasing in your notes or your textbook. A word of warning, however: be thoughtful and deliberate with your highlighting. It can be dangerously easy to over-highlight, and a page that is overly highlighted is no more useful than a page that hasn't been highlighted at all.

Embrace your strengths.

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Finally, I want to emphasize that no type of learner is better than any other. Visual learners may feel like they have a disadvantage compared to auditory or verbal learners when you're in a talking- or writing-based class. However, there are just as many instances of visual learners having an advantage in a class that emphasizes visual concepts, such as geometry or design-based classes. One of the all-time best study tips for visual learners, auditory learners, and every other type of learner is to embrace your strengths as a student and take advantage of the areas in which you excel.

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