The Best Way To Learn New Information, According To Research

How many times have you re-read a few pages of text, then gone to write about them or answer some questions, only to find you can’t remember a word of what you just read? Revising for exams at school, university or even work is never fun (if it is fun, who are you and how did you find a way to bring joy to revision?), but there is good news. It doesn’t need to be so difficult and dull, “but what is this miracle technique?!”, I hear you cry.

It’s Drawing!

The above title is just for people who can’t be bother to read an amateur blogger’s whole post just to find the answer. Now most people at this point are worrying. Thinking things like

“I can’t draw!”

“I wish it was something I am good at, rather than drawing!”

But, imaginary worriers, you need not worry at all. Skill level is completely irrelevant to whether or not you learn better when drawing (please see the title picture for reference). It’s incredibly common to get self-conscious about your drawing skills around puberty, I know I did. I barely drew a thing for years! But it turns out that diagrams, maps, doodles even smiley faces count. So the bar for the required skill level really is low.

This takes off the pressure and means anyone can do it as easily as they would jot down a note. The drawings are for your benefit, not for anyone else.

Some scientists did a study, where a group of people was asked to recall a list of words and definitions, half were asked to write them over and over and half were asked to draw them. The results were that no matter how good each person’s actual drawings were, the doodlers did significantly better at remembering the words and definitions and understanding the content of what they had read.

Drawing Uses Multiple Parts Of Your Brain Simultaneously

It’s not actually clear just yet what happens in the brain when drawing that makes it so damn effective at helping you learn, but the leading idea at the moment is that it engages multiple parts of your brain at the same time. Similar to what I wrote in an earlier post about writing notes by hand.

When you draw:

  • You picture what it is you are drawing, this is the part of your brain that forms images.
  • You move your arm across the page to create different lines, shading and shapes. This is involves the part of your brain responsible for movement.
  • You judge the accuracy of your drawing, this requires analytical thought.
  • You feel the pen(cil) and the paper (or screen) you are drawing on, this engages the touch sensors in your brain

That’s a lot of brain parts and deeper processing has been found to increase the likelihood you remember something so using all those different brain parts are most likely responsible for drawing’s power to affect your memory.

Drawing Helps You Focus

For some reason, your mind is much less likely to wander when you are drawing, perhaps engaging your brain on so many levels means many more parts need to disengage for it to wander and you learn best when you’re concentrating.

Drawing Broadens Your Thinking

Drawing a thing requires you to picture how that thing looks, then how best to represent the thing and which version of thing to use. If you google aeroplane, you could get a whole bunch of similar looking planes, but if you draw a plane, you could draw: a propeller plane, a jet plane, a fighter plane. Then you could draw it: taking off, crashing, upside down, in a hanger. You can choose the detail level: cartoony, super realistic, just the outlines. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination will allow.

Drawing Keeps You Humble

Drawing is hard. I know earlier I said that it doesn’t have to be the best drawing, in the world to count, but try and draw a pig from memory now, how much does it look like a pig? Drawing shows us how much we actually observe in our daily life and how much we actually don’t know.

As with any skill, someone is always better than you, no matter how good you get. Also taking something in front of you and putting down only the parts you need requires a lot of thought. What parts of a pair of scissors do you need to make a drawing look like scissors?

Drawing something you think you can picture in your head only to see something completely different on the page, can be infuriating, but it’s not impossible, so keep trying, you’ll get there.

The following links contain all the information I used to write this post here, here, here and here.

Please let me know in the comments below, what you think!