Can Color Coding My Notes Really Get Me Better Grades?

Do you hate studying? Do you hate taking notes and never knowing which piece of information is where? Well, this commonly known study tip is actually useful, not just to make your notebook look pretty. 

The tip? Color coordinate certain things!! You can such as definitions, dates, and headings of topics. This way you can easily block out other notes when looking for a specific piece of information. If we highlight all definitions in yellow, we can skim our notes, only having to look for things in yellow to quickly find our definition, which also gives you a memory tool during test time. Certain color usage may make certain tidbits of information stick out amongst all of the other facts you have to know. 

This idea uses Broadbent’s filter theory, which he uses to explain selective attention. Kendra Cherry writes an article, reviewed by Dr. Steven Gans MD, and defines selective attention as “the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time”(Cherry, 2019). Color coding allows selective attention to happen easier, as our brain has a color to hone in on. Not only that, but NCBI notes that color “functions as a powerful information channel to the human cognitive system and has been found to play a significant role in enhancing memory performance”(Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). Using color in your notes can help you on your test, it literally helps the brain remember more information. It is even used to help patients with dyslexia (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). If something as simple as highlighting your notes can significantly help memorization and retention, why not do it? The two authors, Dzulkilfi and Mustafar, outline numerous studies in which color aids in memory and retention. They note that “The more attention focused on certain stimuli, the more chances of the stimuli to be transferred to a more permanent memory storage” and color is what brings attention to the stimuli (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). They write about a doctor who performed a study where they participants were tested on their recall of shapes and their color. It resulted in higher retention of the color than the shape (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). So maybe instead of circling and underlining notes, writing them in color pen or highlighting will result in better test grades. 

What do I think? I think that anything is worth trying. As I read on in the article, there is so much proven that color is extremely useful when it comes to retention, and highlighting doesn’t take long, so why not. We can focus in on it, use our selective attention to find it easier amongst all the notes, and it helps us remember. We can use the color association during the test and remember “Oh yeah, that was a date in pink” and that may give you visual clues. In college, any study tip is helpful and if it is as simple as coloring my notes, I will try it out. After all, it makes sense, when we are in a clothing store, we are gravitated towards colors we like, so, why not do the same with our notes, it is psychologically proven.

4 thoughts on “Can Color Coding My Notes Really Get Me Better Grades?

  1. slevendo

    I knew I colored coded my notes for a reason! I never actually knew the science behind color coding notes until now. It is interesting that color that help with the retention rate of our memories which could help us remember a lot more when it comes to tests. I think this could also be a great research study to see if it could work during a class!

  2. dcharron

    I think this is very interesting, all my life in school I have used highlighting as a form of studying. It definitely helps me organize my notes and other stand things better. I think what helps most about highlighting is our eyes are automatically driven to what is brightest on the page. The bright highlighter colors stick out among the rest of the white paper. Therefore that leads our attention to focus on that item more. As for me I usually just highlight the top header, but maybe highlighting all the notes would be more affective, I am down for trying anything. I think its interesting that the one study had better recall over colors then they did shape. I feel like I am the opposite I tend to remember shapes and figures more but I guess it varies among different people.

  3. iloaiza

    I always knew this tip was a great study tactic but I never knew the psychology behind it! This makes so much sense now! It’s interesting because I noticed that when I am taking an exam, and trying to remember a definition, sometimes I can see a clear color in my head (which represents the of the marker I used to write that definition with), that helps me to remember the information I wrote. Very interesting topic! 🙂

  4. ejones9

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I highlight and color code all my notes, and I’ve always found it extremely helpful when studying. Glad to hear that there is psychological backup for one of my many studying methods. I wonder if there can be a thing as too much color coding.. Oh well! This was a very interesting read with relevant and applicable information!

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