Study Tips: How to Highlight the Right Way

Highlighting is a super popular study method of students all around the world. The use of bright colours captures attention and is especially stimulating for visual learners. That being said, highlighting isn’t about painting the entire notes with colours without leaving any gap. There are actually several effective ways to transform your note taking skills and use highlighting as a study strategy.

Now, take a step back and think if the textbook covered in mutl-coloured highlights is serving you as it should. Does it draw attention to important information in a text? If it doesn’t, read on to master the act of using a highlighter effectively.

How To Highlight The Right Way


Step 1: Know What You Are Highlighting

Mindless highlighting could only lead to wasted time and useless notes. Instead of highlighting every single word and sentence in a paragraph, try a goal-oriented approach for your text. Ask yourself these few questions before you begin:

  • What am I highlighting?
  • What outcome am I aiming for?
  • What are the main concepts of the entire paragraph?

The general rule is only 1/3 of the page should be highlighted. Hence, limit yourself to highlighting only one phrase per paragraph and look out for the main concepts in each text. Next, write brief summaries of the phrases you have highlighted and quiz yourself on them. Remember, the key of highlighting is to help you remember the main points of your textbooks. 

Pro Tip: Start highlighting after you have read through and reached the end of a paragraph or a section.

Step 2: Devise a Highlighting System

Create a system to help you navigate your notes more effectively. This way you can identify different types of contents to focus on. Colour coding is a great way to lead your system into success. For example, choose one colour for definitions and important points and another for examples. Besides colours, you can use different highlighting methods to reduce the usage of many colours. One method would be to draw a shape around important formulas rather than highlighting the entire text. You could even invest in coloured pens for this technique. Just remember to stick to a system that works best as consistency is the key.

Stabilo Boss Highlighter

Step 3: Colour Code Your Notes

Choose the colours of your highlighters carefully as they not only affect the overall look of your notebook but is associated with the effectiveness of your highlighting technique. Firstly, limit your colour count for every subject or topic - a range of three to five colours is just nice. Next, pick easily identifiable colours and avoid one that could be distracting. Use a mixture of striking and pastel colours that are visible and easy to differentiate. Lastly, pick colours that are exclusive to each other. You want to be able to tell the different types of information apart.

Below is simple example to colour code your notes and make highlighting an useful study tool:

  • Key Info: Yellow
  • Examples: Green
  • Questions: Red
  • Subtopics: Blue
  • Formulas: Pink
  • Tips: Purple  

If you have used red to highlight questions, do not use the similar colour to highlight the main points. As you continue to paint your notes, do it in moderation to avoid the common issue of over-highlighting. Consider this - if everything is highlighted and marked as important in a page, no phrases will actually be distinct enough to stand out.

On top of that, you can also enhance your note taking and studying skills by annotation. Add brief comments and information as annotations in the page margins.

In conclusion, highlighting is a rather smart way to keep track of your notes and stay ahead of your course mates. As you plan your study notes, your brain will actively manipulate the information and create a pattern - directly sending it to your long-term memory which in turn helps you ace your tests.

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