Highlighters, they come is such pretty colours; yellow, pink, blue, green, orange. And they’re so handy aren’t they?  Instead of underlining the important part of a text, you can simply highlight it and it pops out of the page making it so easy for revision – or at least that’s the theory.

IMG_0449In reality, almost the entire sentence gets highlighted. Everything seems important and it’s easier just to highlight every word.  Next the entire paragraph is highlighted and before you know it almost the entire chapter is highlighted.  In order to break it up a bit, you use different coloured highlighters for different sections. The overall result is that every word in the entire chapter now is important, must be learned and that can be overwhelming.

Instead of being an aid to study, highlighting creates stress and can actually become an impediment to studying.  In a report by the Association for Psychological Science, the authors, led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky, examined 10 learning strategies and found that highlighting was one of the most ineffective methods.

IMG_0456Studies showed that they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicated that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences.

When students highlight, they tend to highlight the entire sentence because they need to read every word in order for it to make sense to them. If they were to focus on the meaning, making mental images & movies, then the main ideas would be easier to recall.

IMG_0457I teach our hummingbirds to create mental images that make it easy to recall information.   Once these images have been created and are clear and strong, then we break them down into keywords or buzzwords as we call them.  These single word buzzwords are so strong that they allow the student to recall all of the detail that goes with those single words.

When coupled with a good note taking technique, the list of buzzwords makes revision really easy.   Instead of being faced with page after page of highlighted words and being overwhelmed by them, the student simply has a list of single words, all of which easily bring to mind the information required.  Study becomes much easier and less time consuming, meaning that the student can revise more often, ensuring that the information goes from the short term memory into the long term memory.

Perhaps it’s time to ditch the highlighter.

Elaine Sparling is the founder & CEO of the award winning Hummingbird Learning Centre, based in Adare Co Limerick.  She can be contacted at elaine@hummingbirdlearning.com , 087-2996054 or through her website www.hummingbirdlearning.com

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