Sometimes I look at a diagram–a pretty image that presents information in a fairly clear way–and I don’t understand it at all. It could be the most well-designed infographic you’ve ever seen but to me, it might as well be a cat meme or an ad for toilet paper.

It’s not because I’m an idiot (so I’m told), but because I learn most effectively through spoken words (aural), rather than through images (visual). Everybody learns and experiences the world around them through different modes. It’s a theory of teaching called VARK, which stands for visual, aural, reading/writing and kinaesthetic (touch), which make up the different learning styles. The majority of people learn through a mix of all of these but tend to favour one over others.

When I found out this theory, things kind of clicked for me. It wasn’t particularly surprising to hear that I favour having something explained to me rather than looking at a graph (I’ve noticed that over the years), but it certainly helped me to take more control of how I do research and take in information. There’s no doubt about it, learning how I learn has helped me learn better. For sure.

See if any of these sound familiar and nab some study tips so you can get those pesky summaries to stick next time.

Visual Learners

Visual learners experience the world through imagery and often go on to become artists, designers and photographers. According to VARK, visual learners comprehend information through:

  • pictures, videos, posters and slides
  • gestures and picturesque language
  • flowcharts and infographics
  • by underlining, colour coding and highlighting
  • diagrams and pictures
  • graphs, symbols and white space

Aural Learners

Aural learners favour speaking, listening and participating in discussions. Their best learning strategies are:

  • attending classes
  • participating in discussions and tutorials
  • discussing topics with teachers and others
  • explaining new ideas to other people
  • using a tape recorder
  • remembering the interesting specific examples, stories and jokes
  • describing the overheads, pictures and other visuals to somebody who was not there
  • leaving spaces in notes for filling in later

Reading and Writing Learners

Some people tend to learn through the traditional modes of reading and writing, especially academics, researchers and copywriters. They find that the printed word is the clearest form of displaying information because all the meaning is laid out within the text and can be extracted at one’s own pace. They learn through:

  • lists
  • headings
  • dictionary definitions
  • glossaries
  • textbooks
  • readings
  • notes (often verbatim)
  • teachers who use words well and have lots of information in sentences and notes
  • essays
  • manuals

Kinesthetic Learners

Those who build and make things with their hands, such as hairdressers, builders and jewellers tend to be kinesthetic learners. They learn through a broad range of senses, rather than relying on a single one. They learn through:

  • all the senses – sight, touch, taste, smell, sound
  • lab sessions, field work and tours.
  • examples of principles
  • lecturers who give real-life examples
  • applications
  • hands-on approaches
  • trial and error
  • collections of samples, such as rock types, plants, shells, grasses
  • exhibits, samples, photographs
  • recipes – solutions to problems, previous exam papers

So hopefully this gives you an idea of how you learn, but it’s probably worth taking this questionnaire anyway and figuring out which styles of learning you favour. Then you can look at the best strategies for studying in that style and starting reaching dem study goals.