How to use highlighters to remember what you’re learning 

By  Lysette Offley

How to use highlighters to remember what you’re learningWant to know how to use highlighters to remember what you’re learning?

Highlighting the challenge

Who likes to use highlighters to identify themes in their textbooks?



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.


How to use highlighters to remember what you’re learningSecondly, 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!

Revising is hard. Your brain will feel tired if you’re doing it properly.

Your unconscious mind, which is there to make sense of the world and keep you safe and comfortable, will try to convince you that highlighting your textbook constitutes ‘revising’, 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 achieving with your highlighters.

And then of course, you need to decide if what you’re doing with them is actually accomplishing that goal.


How to use highlighters to remember what you’re learningHere’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. (See previous articles.)

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?

How to use highlighters to remember what you’re learningEither 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?


The secret of speedy revision

The secret of speedy studying



Lysette Offley

About the author

With 40 years of experience, Lysette Offley is a Memory and Mindset Coach to women and men at the top of their game in the Financial Services Industry who recognise the value of continual personal and professional development and support to achieve a healthy work-life balance, along with satisfaction and fulfilment.

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