We return to our discussion on studying with a highlighter. As we suggested in our last blog on highlighting a textbook, highlighters aren’t that helpful when used incorrectly. That doesn’t mean they’re useless. It just means you need to know what you’re doing with it.
It’s kind of like a sledge hammer. It’s great if you need to put a hole in the wall; it’s less effective if you’re trying to open a jar of pickles.
So how do you make sure that you’re using your highlighter to help and not hurt your study skills? Keep these four helpful ways to study in mind when studying with a highlighter. If you do, you’ll be fine.
1) Studying with a highlighter doesn’t replace taking your own notes
This isn’t a “one or the other” type of option. You need to be an active learner. Studying by highlighting is far too passive.
We outlined some of the reasons why highlighting doesn’t replace note-taking in our blog on highlighting a textbook.
2) Studying with a highlighter is a great second step
Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a second step, not a first. By “second step” we mean that using a highlighter is an effective strategy if used on notes that you’ve already taken. When students first take notes and then use a highlighter on them, there can be some benefits.
But do the harder work of input and output through note-taking first. You’ll be far better off.
So what should you use the highlighter to do?
3) Use a highlighter to connect important ideas
Connection is vital for learning effectively. We talk more about how you can have connected study sessions in our online study skills courses, but know this: the more connections you make in your notes, the better you tend to remember things.
Your brain naturally learns by making connections between information. This could be similar details. It could be similar concepts. It could be similar locations. But anytime you learn something new, your brain looks for similar something.
Studying with a highlighter allows you to make those connections visually, not just mentally. And the more visual you can make things – aka, more concrete – the more likely you’ll remember them.
If you need any more proof, answer this question: what tool did I compare a highlighter to in the opener of this blog? That image probably stuck much better (because of the visual elements) than it would have if I just wrote “using a highlighter for the wrong things is bad.” Instead, you likely imagined yourself destroying a fresh jar of Vlasic Dill Spears.
4) Realize the different long-term vs. short-term benefits of studying with a highlighter
A final reality to note is that studying with a highlighter can be helpful if you’re end goal isn’t to ace an exam. If your main goal is doing well in a class, studying with a highlighter is a less effective approach. You won’t get as much for your time as you would some other strategies.
But if you want to be able to reference these materials 10 years down the road, a highlighter may be just right. I often highlight when reading books. But I don’t do it for class. I do it for my memory in 20 years. When I open a book my highlights tell me what was important to me at the time.
It’s helpful, but it’s not a great study skill for AP-Biology.
How about you? Have you found that studying with a highlighter gives you similar results? We would love to hear your response.