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Learning Success Guide: Strategies for Thinking, Learning, and Writing

Everyone learns differently. Use this site to explore new ways to learn. Try everything you can. Keep what works; change what doesn't.

What kind of learner are you?

In the coming sections, you will learn what kind of learner you really are. It will help you with your studies along the way once you determine how best you retain information. There are 4 main learning styles; Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. We will go over each and how best to utilize each strategy. Click this link to take a survey and discover what kind of learner you are!





Some learners prefer a visual approach to gaining skills and knowledge. On this page, you'll learn more about visual learning styles, and pick up some tips you can use in your own learning. 

In this video (9:15), you can discover traits of visual learners and study tips to implement right away. As you read on, you will discover more strategies for implementing visual activities into your learning.

Her tips?

  • Find a quiet place to study
  • Color-code your notes
  • Create visuals
  • Outline your notes
  • Sit up front

Watch to discover why these tips are so important. 

Try everything out. Keep what works and adapt what doesn't.

Color Coding Notes, Slides, & Books.

Color coding is an important way to learn course content. Unfortunately, many learners choose colors because they are favorites, or look good. In reality, every color used to write or highlight notes should mean something. 

For example, consider this PDF guide for Nursing students who need to learn the ADPIE method of practice:

This handout color-codes the steps in Nursing practice. For nurses, blue is a major warning sign that something has gone wrong, so a fast assessment is needed. Red signifies that someone is in danger, or that you should stop to identify the patient's problem. The next two colors--orange and yellow-- involve the plan and the action or intervention, so they move away from red and toward green. Green indicates evaluation and life, where all systems should improve for the patient.

ADPIE Color-Coding


Now look at this example:

A nurse can glance at this scenario and should, given enough practice, identify what elements of the case involve the different steps. This kind of color-coded visual analysis of text allows the nurse to move through a lot of knowledge quickly while identifying all the components of good nursing practice.



Color-coding the patterns of thinking (see our Writing: Global Issues: Organization guide) is a great way to get started making effective use of color. But there are other ways as well.

Try taking notes in different colors.

If you don't like sticking with black or blue for your notes, you can use the whole rainbow! The key is to make sure each color means something. Don't just change colors at random.  That won't help you remember the information later.


  • Notes will be memorable
  • Colors can cue you in on specific patterns or content purposes.


  • You have to carry them all with you.
  • What if you accidentally take notes in the wrong color?

Highlight notes as review.

Instead of writing your notes in different colors, go back to them later the same day or early the next day and highlight them according to your patterns of organization (see our Writing: Global Issues: Organization guide) or according to how they answer the questions you created when applying the SQ3R Method to your reading.

Note: Don't simply highlight in different colors for fun.  Highlight

  • definitions in one color
  • processes in another
  • comparisons in another
  • SQ3R answers in another
  • etc, choosing groupings as you think they wll be effective

You can even add the page number in your notes where content appears in your book or on your slides, and color code those as well!

Use color-coded post-it notes in your book.

If you have a print text, you may want to make notes in it that can be removed before selling back the book. (Full disclosure, I don't believe in selling back books, but I get the economic need). 

Instead of marking your book with pencil and then erasing at the end of the term, just add post-it notes or colored tabs with page references, note or slide references, or a 1-3 word description of what's important on that page.


Learn more about ways to incorporate color-coding into your notes and study strategies in this 5-minute video from Mister Messenger. On the video's YouTube page, you will also find helpful links to additional resources.


Color Coding Flashcards.

Color-coding doesn't have to end with your notes. Once you have established a pattern in which color indicates meaning, you can add other study resources. For example, flashcards should follow the same color scheme as your note or highlight colors. 

If you like to study using Quizlet, you can even color code your questions digitally.


Color Coding with Crayons and Markers for drawings!


In this section, you can explore ways to prepare yourself to listen during class lectures, use listening and reading out loud to advance your study skills, and develop strategies for active listening and paraphrasing what others have said.

Hone your listening skills for classroom note-taking and conversation through the following links to other University and Professional sites: 

Learn study strategies that use listening and reading out loud using the following links:

  • Record your lectures
  • Activate narrator options on your digital device
  • Check for Read Out Loud options in your online textbooks
  • Activate Read out Loud options in Google Chrome

Learn strategies for active listening and paraphrasing that will increase your comprehension in small groups, study groups, or in conversations.

  • Focus on the speaker
  • Paraphrasing techniques



Learn About Listening!

Listening means you are make a conscious decision to understand and show respect for the other person's communication efforts. In order to improve your listening, you must first understand why listening is important. Listening improves relationships, enforces personal growth, shows respect to others, and helps you to develop a professional rapport. 


  • Listening is not an automatic response (that would be "hearing"). Listening is a learned, voluntary activity that you must choose to do. 
  • Listening involves full attention and the ability to filter out distractions, emotional barriers, cultural differences, and religious biases.  


Watch (video clip 07:51): "5 Ways to Listen Better"



Identifying Listening Obstacles

It is important to listen with a purpose (you must recognize what type of situation you are in and adjust your attention to it), to listen objectively, and to listen constructively. You must evaluate the information you are hearing and find the meaning it has in your life.

You need to know how to listen and store information for later. Listening obstacles differ based on scenario, review the following three and think of when each obstacle may affect you.

Active Listening Tips

  • Rephrasing what is said and asking an informed question allows the speaker to know that you heard it, but need more clarification.  Don't just ask "can you repeat that," ask "I heard you say ___, but didn't fully understand- can you repeat it differently?" 
  • Look for body language to help determine what is important and should be written down. Keep an eye out for when your teacher writes on the board, repeats something multiple times, or asks you to respond to questions on the spot 
  • Reduce communication blocks . Your teachers know when you're texting, doodling, checking social media, and zoning out! 


Watch (video clip 01:42): "How to be a Great Listener"


Identify Your Listening Style

Identify which style fits your classroom listening style best, then keep that in mind when determining which type of notes may suit you.

  • Action oriented listeners learn well with flashcards and Jeopardy style quizzes
  • People oriented listeners learn well in small study groups
  • Time oriented listeners learn well in short spurts using a reward system
  • Content oriented listeners learn well with research and data

Reading is the fundamental skill a learner needs, whether the text involves words, pictures, or moving images. There is a distinction between reading for pleasure and reading to learn, or active reading. In this section, you will explore strategies for active reading before, during, and after note-taking. These strategies include


SQ3R is an active reading strategy not just for note-taking, but for getting a textbook overview and studying as well.

  • Skim: When reviewing notes, skim to make sure you understand all your abbreviations and that your handwriting is legible- you may have to rewrite and reorganize. When reading a text book, skim to review headings and subtitles so that your brain is better prepared for what it is about to absorb.  


  • Question: When reviewing notes, make sure any questions you wrote in the margins or had for the teacher have been answered.  When reading, write down questions you already have based on headings and subtitles- this will help you stay more focused and engaged in reading because it gives you something to search for. 


  • Read: What's the point of taking notes if you never look at them again? Read your notes later in the day after you've taken them to make sure they still make sense, and read them again when studying for a test. When reviewing for a test, re-read sections of the chapter the were particularly complicated or confusing.


  • Recite: When reviewing both notes and a text, it always helps to read things along. As you're reading, try to put things in your own words as well- this will better prepare you for essay questions! 


  • Review: Similarly to how you'd stretch after exercising, you want to give your brain time to wind down after intense focusing as well. Review everything quickly one last time instead of just shutting your binder or book and moving right on to something else.


Video Clip (02:33) "SQ3R Reading Method"

Previewing Your Textbook

It's a smart idea to at least survey your textbook chapters before attending class. The reason why is simple: without prior content exposure from your textbook, the first time you learn new material will be in a limited, sometimes rushed classroom where you may not have time to think about the material, let alone ask questions or decide what is important.

Take five minutes (4:40 to be exact) to watch Clarissa's YouTube video "How To read Your Textbooks".


Preview your assigned chapters by doing the following:

  1. Check the table of contents to see what order the information is given in. Look across chapters to see if there is a repeating pattern that the author uses. This is often then case in professional fields, such as nursing, medicine, and social work. Finding a pattern that the author repeatedly uses will help you see how the author wants you to think about the content!
  2. Check the outcomes or goals at the start of the chapter to discover the main points. Then find those points and read those sections in your text. If you have notes or slides, it would pay to put the page numbers where content is found on each slide or in your notes as well. This step requires active reading, and adding page numbers across notes and slides helps you tie all knowledge together for later study or test review.
  3. Don't spend hours on a preview! Your goal is to prepare for class, not to try and learn it all. perhaps spend 3-5 minutes finding the answers and skimming for each of the objective. For example, 10 objectives would take you 30-50 minutes. This step gives you first exposure to material in a setting that you determine, so there will be less stress, and so you will already anticipate what will be covered in class, and what will be important to know.


Closed Captioning on YouTube Videos

Add closed captioning where your YouTube videos permit so you can practice reading along and picking up the rhythms of language while reinforcing content.Closed captioning on YouTube Videos

Kinesthetic learning is a learning style in which learning takes place by the students carrying out physical activities, rather than listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations. Students who learn this way require whole-body movements to process new information. Below is a video on how to utilize this way of learning. 

Gradual Release Model

I Do

We Do

You Do

Do you want to learn more about how you learn but are on a time crunch? Sign up for a 5-week, learn at your own pace, course on Learning How to Learn from! It only takes 15 hours to complete. Click the link below for more information!

Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects:

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