Revision Skills and Learning Style
Our page Learning Styles describes two different theories of styles of learning: Honey and Mumford’s Activist, Pragmatist, Reflector and Theorist types, and the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) based Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic system.
We suggested there that it may be easier to learn if you tailor your study to your preferred learning style, but that variety is also important. The most effective learners use multiple styles.
Recognising and using your preferred learning style, and varying your experiences, can make revision easier, less of a chore and more effective.
Our Revision Skills page provides some useful general revision tips. This page applies some of the ideas about learning styles to revision and suggests some suitable revision activities for those with different learning styles and preferences. You may want to try several different activities to keep yourself interested.
Learning Styles Revisited
See our page: Learning Styles for more information.
Honey and Mumford identified four basic styles of learning, which they characterised as:
- Activists – who learn by doing, getting ‘down and dirty’, and trying things out.
- Pragmatists – who are chiefly interested in how ideas can be applied in the ‘real world’.
- Reflectors – who like to reflect on their experience and that of others.
- Theorists – who like to understand how their study fits into a broader theoretical framework.
Very few of us are a pure ‘type’, but each of us has one, or more often two, preferences of learning style and therefore activities which we prefer to do in order to learn.
Tailoring your revision to your learning style can help you to learn more easily.
BUT trying activities that fit different styles can also help to keep you interested in what you are studying, and ensure that you are fully prepared.
Revision for Activists
Activists like to ‘do’ in order to learn. They don’t care much for reading or looking at their notes.
If you are an 'Activist Learner', revision activities that may suit you are such things as:
- Writing practice essays or exam questions (and you will almost certainly find that your tutor or teacher will be delighted to mark your practice essays for you if you ask them nicely). This will also work for kinaesthetic learners.
- Summarising notes in the form of mind maps or other memory-jogging diagrams. There is more about mind-mapping and other picture techniques on our page on Creative Thinking that will work for visual learners.
- Taking part in a group discussion or debate on the subject that allows you to explore the ideas and subject with other people, which will be helpful for auditory learners.
- Especially if you’re revising a subject like English Literature where you’re studying a play or poem, walking around the room reading it aloud, or acting it out, either alone or with a friend, can be a great way of getting parts of it to stick in your mind.
Revision for Pragmatists
Pragmatists, more than any other group, are interested in what works. That’s the case for the subject that they’re learning, but it’s also the case for the style of learning too.
One good way for pragmatists to revise is to try to find out what the exam will be like, and then prepare for that.
If you are a 'Pragmatist Learner', revision activities that may suit you are such things as:
- Working through old exam questions (your teacher or tutor will probably be happy to mark them or comment on them for you).
- Working out what topics might come up in the exam, based in previous years’ papers, and preparing practice answers for those topics.
- If you’re preparing for language examinations, you might want to prepare for your oral exams out loud by speaking your answers, particularly if you’re an auditory learner. If you’re going to have a five-minute conversation, for example, make sure that you have enough to say on each possible topic to last the five minutes.
- Again if you’re an auditory learner, arrange some discussion groups on particular topics that you think might come up and debate them with friends.
- Case-based learning can also be a useful way to check whether you’ve understood the principles and are applying them sensibly in practice, which will appeal to pragmatists. You might want to ask a tutor or teacher to help provide suitable cases, or mark some answers. This will enable you to use practical examples in an exam, which will help with your general comfort level.
Revision for Reflectors
Reflectors like to read, and think, and read some more. They like to reflect on their experiences and fit things together. More than any other type of learner, a reflector staring out of the window may still be working!
If you are a 'Reflector Learner', revision activities that may suit you are such things as:
- Reading over notes and textbooks, and thinking about the content.
- Writing practice essays or exam questions, but only on subjects on which you’ve already done some reading.
- Summarising your notes and thoughts into a page, perhaps as a mind-map or similar picture to show yourself that you have consolidated your learning. Again, our page on Creative Thinking gives more information about this.
- Talking over the consolidated learning may be helpful, especially for auditory and kinaesthetic learners, but a one-to-one discussion with a tutor or teacher is likely to be more helpful than a group discussion for a reflector since more time will be available to think and respond to new ideas.
Revision for Theorists
Theorists like to go back to first principles and really understand the theoretical framework into which their work fits.
If you are a 'Theorist Learner', revision activities that may suit you are such things as:
- Additional research around a subject to explore theoretical background and set your work in better context. Although this sounds like making work, it will make you, as a theorist, feel more comfortable that you understand the subject and can work out the answers from first principles if necessary.
- Creating structured notes that fit everything together logically, which may help you to build the connections in your mind. Mind-mapping may be a helpful technique for this.
- Building your own models, or applying known models to case studies as practice for exams.
- Discussion groups may be a helpful way to work through the application of theories with like-minded colleagues. Asking a tutor to facilitate will ensure a more practical and less wholly theoretical focus!
Beware of 'Comfort Zone' Learning
It is easy to fall into a trap of thinking that you can only learn in your preferred learning style.
Learning styles, however, are not fixed or absolute, and we should not think of them as limiting what we can do. Most of us will change our learning style in response to different job or course requirements, although we may always retain a preference for one particular style.
Learning also happens in a cycle: we need to try things out, explore ideas, and work out how they fit with existing knowledge, before we can fully put them into practice. Limiting yourself to one particular style means that you may inadvertently miss part of that cycle, and make your learning less effective.
Remember that variety is the spice of life, and look out for new ways of learning to broaden your experience.
Revising Different Subjects Effectively
Some subjects lend themselves much more to certain revision styles. For example, nobody has yet come up with an effective substitute for practising mathematics problems, or reading your English Literature set texts carefully.
There are, however, always ways to tailor your learning, such as getting a group of friends together to act out your English Literature play and discuss its meaning, or recite your poems to each other to learn them for useful quotation later.
Experimenting with lots of different options will both keep you interested, and also help you find the method(s) that work best for you for different subjects.