Episode from the podcastThe Memory & Mindset Podcast

How to use highlighters to remember what you’re learning

Released Wednesday, 20th May 2020
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I frequently come across students with psychedelic textbooks! Undeniably beautiful, is enthusiastically and copiously highlighting your book actually serving you?

Here's what you should be doing with those highlighters to help you remember what you’re learning.

Transcription
Want to know the right way to use highlighters so you remember what you’re trying to learn?
Highlighting the challenge
Who likes to use highlighters to identify themes in their textbooks?
You?
Are you sure it’s a good idea?
I frequently come across students with psychedelic textbooks! Undeniably beautiful, is enthusiastically and copiously highlighting your book actually serving you?
First of all, how many different colours are you using?
If you are identifying three, four or five themes you can probably keep on top of your colour coding. But I suspect more than that and half the time you lose track of which colour represents which theme!
It’s all too easy to get into a muddle. 
Secondly, what are you planning to do with your coding once you’ve identified the themes?
Often people whip their felt pens out because it’s easier than doing real work!
Studying is hard. Your brain will feel tired if you’re doing it properly.
The instinctive, automatic parts of your mind, there to make sense of the world and keep you safe and comfortable, will try to convince you that highlighting your textbook constitutes ‘studying’, because it’s oh so much easier than the real thing!
And so, it will contrive to make you feel good and avoid pulling your finger out!
But pull your finger out, you must, if you need to get the information into your head and keep it there for the exam and beyond.
Maybe you’re using highlighters to home in on the important stuff?
If you highlight a few elements they will indeed stand out. But if you end up highlighting everything, nothing will stand out, will it?
So, you need first of all, to establish what it is you’re trying to achieve with your highlighters.
And then of course, you need to decide if what you’re doing with them is actually accomplishing that goal.
Here’s a great way to use highlighters to help you learn…
If you’ve read my previous articles you will be very familiar with the idea of learning small chunks of information.
So, once you have decided which chunk of information you’re going to learn, I suggest you identify the keywords in that chunk.
From that point onwards, you will focus on organising those keywords in your study notes; in patterns and groups, putting similar ideas together and separating them from others. 
While you are identifying the keywords you might choose to underline them with a pencil or, if you enjoy using coloured pens, why not highlight them instead?
Either way, it will help your brain to notice what’s important.
As your brain is sifting through the information to find those keywords, in other words, the most important ideas, it’s having to process and assess the information.
This is a good thing!
As you organise and draw your study notes, your brain has to actively manipulate the information – and it is that process which will have your brain make a pattern of it and send it to your long-term memory.
And that’s exactly what you want, isn’t it?

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Episode Details

Length
3m 57s
Explicit
No
Season
1
Episode
4
Episode Type
Full

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