Study tip #2: Use your own words and pictures to reinforce what you’re learning

This blog is the second in a three-part series of proven study tips based on science.

by Kristen DiCerbo, Khan Academy chief learning officer

What can you do to help yourself remember new information? Take advantage of research showing that people remember things better when they are learned with words AND visuals! Our brains appear to process visual and verbal information differently, sorting and storing it in different ways or places. In addition, we can use either verbal or visual cues, or both together, to recall information from our memories. If we store information both visually and verbally, it means we can increase our chances of recalling it in one of those ways. 

You’ve probably noticed that our math videos on Khan Academy don’t show faces but include a lot of visuals that compliment the words Sal Khan, our founder, is speaking. This is on purpose! We want you to have visual and verbal input that is related to what you are learning. As much as we might like Sal’s face, it doesn’t actually tell you anything about the topic to be learned.

A lot of our studying involves words, either reading or listening to lectures. You can add visuals to the mix  by drawing your own pictures in your notes. Sometimes it’s clear which pictures you might want to draw. If you’re studying cells in biology, you might want to draw a picture of a cell. Sometimes, though, it isn’t so obvious what to draw because you’re studying something that doesn’t really seem visual. This is a good time to use what we call a graphic organizer. First, write the concept you’re learning in the middle of your paper. Then, as you think of related ideas, examples or experiences, write them on the page and connect them to your concept with lines. You’ll end up with a web of words that are related to your new knowledge. Use your creativity. If you come up with some new way to visually show an idea, you’ll probably remember it longer!

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Note that this advice is not about picking whether you think you prefer visual or auditory input (sometimes called learning styles) and studying that way. The research has been fairly clear that trying to identify a learning style and then tailoring instruction to that style does not improve learning outcomes. People do better when they get input both visually and verbally!

Additional post in this series:

Study tip #1:  Relate what you’re learning to what you already know.

Study tip #3: Practice remembering things. (Yes, remembering does take practice!)

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