Parent's Guide to Education During Covid-19. Get the guide

A Blog post

The ONE study technique that drives tutors crazy!
  • Calendar Jun 27, 2018
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
  • Comments 0 Comments
In our upcoming Study Skills workshop (starting next week!) we are going to spend each of 8 weeks covering and practicing a different study technique. These are techniques that go beyond reading the textbook, doing the homework problems, and studying flashcards. But there is one study technique that just won’t die, despite how ineffective it is! Highlighting/underlining


Why do we highlight/underline? When we see a piece of information that seems important, we highlight it. The thinking is that this will make it easier for us to find that important piece of information later on when we review the chapter again, or make our flashcards, or create our review sheet to study for the test. We also highlight information we aren’t confident with so that we can come back to it and dig in more deeply. We feel more proactive: more engaged with the text. And when we look back over the chapter, we can feel good about the “work” that we did as we read!

Why doesn’t it work?

“When everything is highlighted, nothing is highlighted.” -Vincent Perry I’ve seen many books over the years with 50% (or more) of the text highlighted. Highlighting often acts as a substitute for thinking about the concept. When we highlight something because it is important, we are often telling ourselves “I’ll think about this later.” But oftentimes, later never comes. What’s more, when we consciously or subconsciously decide not to think about a concept now, it makes it hard to integrate what we read later, since we have gaps in our knowledge (that we’ll get to later, of course!) Highlighting gives us permission to move our eyes down a page of text, asking only one question as we read: Is this important? Highlighting can, in fact, lower reader engagement because we focus only whether a particular concept should be highlighted or not, not whether we actually understand it!  

How we can use highlighting more effectively?

Highlighting CAN be useful, as long as it is not used as a substitute for thinking. Combining highlighting with note-taking can be effective (highlighting material in the book that you’ve written in your notes can help you easily see what you have and have not taken notes on, in case you want to add to your notes later). What highlighting has going for it is that it is fast and easy, which means you can do a lot of it quickly. But doing a lot quickly is not what is going to lead to long-term retention and comprehension. Studying needs to be a thoughtful, deliberate process to be effective.  

What can we do instead of highlighting?

Here are a few ideas: -Take notes: Writing the important ideas down yourself makes it far more likely you’ll remember it than if you simply highlight the information. Trying to paraphrase the idea (rather than copying it word for word) gives you an opportunity to test your comprehension of the material (if you can’t paraphrase it, you don’t understand it well enough!) Finally, highlighting is so easy, it’s tempting to use it too liberally. Actually writing down the information yourself will help ensure that you are focussed on only the most important information! -Come up with test questions: When you read a section, come up with a couple questions that a teacher might ask about the concepts covered in that section, and write them down. Try to stay away from “What is _______?” Dig a bit deeper than that! It’s tough to come up with good test questions if you didn’t understand what you read (and if you find out that you didn’t understand it as well as you need to, see the next idea!) -Write your questions: When you are confused by a concept, write the question you would ask your teacher in your notes. Oftentimes, the act of formulating the question is enough to help you figure out the answer. If it isn’t though, you’ve at least primed your subconcious mind to look for the answer in the remainder of the text (or, you have a question to ask your teacher in class tomorrow!)

The Big Idea

Highlighting is a way to say “I’ll do the REAL studying later” which is just a form of procrastination (that sneakily LOOKS like being productive!) Study the right way the first time. You’ll save time and study more effectively! Any effective study technique should INCREASE student engagement, and turn reading into a conversation the reader is having with the material. -Vince Looking for support with your son/daughter's study skills? Give us a call at 858.551.2650 or email We can help!

Contact Us

Got a question? We'd love to hear from you.
Send us a message and we'll respond as soon as possible.

    Top Arrow