High-lighten the load: making the most of highlighting for revision

It’s Term 3 and that means time to break out the revision highlighters! Keep these 4 tips in mind to get the most from your notes…

So Term 3 is moving forward apace, the library is buzzing and by now most people are deep into their revision or even their exams. How to go about getting the most from your study materials is a very individual process that you will find through experience and practice.

One of the most popular techniques for revision is highlighting. Brightly coloured felt tips break up a plain page of text or equations and draw the eye when you come back to the page later. Also, it gives you a chance to work with bright colours, which should not be underestimated when wading through large amounts of information!

Use a range of colours: The aim of highlighting is to turn the information sources that you have into more a useful, digestible form. The truth is that you may not remember when you come back to a page hours or days later what your highlighting was supposed to emphasise. A simple solution to this is to colour code your highlights! Blue could represent the most vital key points in the source while green could denote important quotations or statistics that you want to include in your exam answers. You can give meaning to these different colours in any way that works for you, the important thing is to make sure that you know what the colours mean to you and stick with them throughout.

Use your own texts: OK, so this one is partly a plea from someone who has spent hours (literally) checking library books for excessive highlighting. Spending an entire shift trying to hunt down pencil marks is soul destroying and having to retire books because they’ve been so heavily annotated that they are unreadable makes me sad 😦  But it is also a courtesy to your fellow students. While it might seem useful for someone to already have highlighted a book with the key passages for you, it also means that you are more likely to skip over parts of the text that are not marked and you might miss something important. There are plenty of places in the Library that you can photocopy or print out your own chapter or article that you can highlight to your hearts content, so please don’t write all over the books!

Please don’t…

Highlight judiciously:  When you start going through your notes or a source it can be tempting to draw bright lines on anything that you think you might possibly need to remember. But this can lead to highlighting practically an entire text. I once spent a whole day trying to remove the lines that a student had left in a book; they had left maybe one sentence a page unmarked. Quite apart from how tedious this job is for the poor Library Assistant that draws the short straw, this sort of mass highlighting does not help you with your revision. The whole aim of highlighting is to draw out the key points and themes. Too much highlighting only confuses the matter.

Combine with other revision techniques: So, we come to the final, most important tip, the one I want to HIGHLIGHT more than any other. Make sure, once you have highlighted something that you go back and use other revision techniques to make sure that it gets firmly embedded in your brain. Lots of studies argue that, on its own, highlighting is actually not that good a revision technique. Testing yourself (you could use flashcards or ask a friend) and teaching others are both recommended as good ways to remember your material. Where highlighting can help is in picking out what you need to focus your revision on.

Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of highlighting as a technique for your revision and to navigate your way through the exam season with as little stress as possible.


Images: Highlighting/Benson Kua/CC BY-SA 2.0

IB English/Quinn Dombrowski/CC BY-SA 2.0

Got any tips for getting the most from revision? If so, share them in the comments!

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