Know Your Learning Style

by Laura Hemmer, FCAS

Starting to study for an exam is generally a daunting task. How should you organize yourself to get the best results? Often candidates ask their friends or coworkers for advice on how to study. "Definitely notecards," one will say. "I wrote 600 notecards for each exam and always passed on the first try!" "Don't use notecards," says another. "Useless. Instead I watched lots of online seminars." Given all this conflicting advice, how do you know what methods are right for you?

What is a learning style?

The answer can be found in knowing your "learning style." A learning style just means the way in which you learn best. While the precise names and number of styles can vary, one of the most popular learning style lists uses the acronym VARK:

  • Visual learners — If this is you, you learn best by reading and seeing new information, perhaps in chart or diagram form.
  • Auditory learners — You learn best by hearing verbal explanation and participating in discussions.
  • Reading/writing learners — You like lists, text and taking notes.
  • Kinesthetic learners — You learn by doing. Examples and practical applications are the best for you.

Of course, most of us don't fall neatly into one category but are a mix, known as multimodal. That means you should incorporate strategies for all relevant learning styles into your individual learning strategy.

Why is knowing your learning style important?

Studying for a CAS exam is most likely a different learning environment than you've experienced before. Instead of attending a class and then having a final exam, you are responsible for teaching yourself the material in order to pass the test. You've probably never been completely on your own to learn new material before. Knowing your learning style helps you figure out how to organize your study plan and which study habits to adopt. We all know the adage of 100 study hours per hour of exam, but it is important to make sure you are using those 100 hours as efficiently as possible to really set yourself up for exam success.

How do you figure out your learning style?

To understand which learning style or styles applies to you, you have to undertake some self-reflection. Think about what engages you in the classroom or work setting. Do you eagerly participate in meeting conversation and prefer face-to-face communication to discuss concepts? Then you might be an auditory learner. Do you take extensive notes and use a lot of Post-its to help orient yourself? Then you're probably a visual learner. Is your whiteboard covered in diagrams? That definitely points to visual learning. Some careful thought about what has worked for you in the past will help you get organized for studying.   Of course, you can always Google "learning style quiz" and get an objective opinion on what style best suits you. There are several free options available online.

What study habits work best for each style?

Some suggested study habits for each learning style are below.   

  • Visual — Use graphs, charts and diagrams wherever possible. Flash cards may be helpful.
  • Auditory — Get involved with a study group to talk through concepts. Read aloud or explain answers out loud to yourself. Try an online or in-person exam seminar.
  • Reading/writing — Make lists and note pages for reference. Reread material to help it stick.
  • Kinesthetic — Use examples and practice problems to understand concepts. Take breaks during studying to move around.

   Remember, many people are a mix of styles so several of these methods may speak to you. Everyone is unique; you will figure out what works best for you via trial and error. Even after determining your learning style, you may still want to ask those coworkers for advice! Also, make sure to read the Study Tips and Tricks article in this issue of Future Fellows for more ideas.   

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