Lerning Styles, Tests and Exams

by Barbara Prashnig



How studying and exam preparation benefit from a knowledge of style diversity

It is this time of the year again – at least in the northern hemisphere! Thousands of students are preparing themselves for upcoming exams in schools everywhere and many are suffering from anxiety, frustration and despair because they know they are fighting a losing battle. Parents will do their utmost to help their children achieve the best possible results, but unfortunately not always with the success they had hoped for. Despite study skills courses, exam preparation techniques and expensive private tuition, many students will not achieve the exam outcomes proportionate to their efforts. But finally, true help is on the horizon: a well-understood Learning Styles (LS) approach and personalized study techniques can change that for the better.

Exam-culture in traditional education systems

There is strong consensus among educators that no matter how we teach our students, ultimately they need to be capable of taking tests and sit exams successfully. One cannot contest these aspirations for a minute, particularly as long as there are systems in place which measure students’ learning success in prescribed tests, assessments and exams. To be successful in such a system based on ‘Assessment for Learning’ like in the US and UK (in other words dependent on testing), students need to be well prepared and confident to achieve desired outcomes. Therefore teachers need to understand the role of learning styles in teaching, studying and exam preparation more than ever.

Accommodating LS in tests and exams??

Since the LS concept and personalizes learning have been introduced on a large scale in various countries, many progressive teachers have embraced the diversity concept wholeheartedly and with great success. Initially, this happened more in primary schools but now more and more secondary schools assess their students’ learning styles to prevent underachievement and school failure. But even if such pioneering educators are very much in favour of learning styles and personalised instructions, many of them (particularly in high schools) cannot see how LS would be beneficial for test-taking. They know that it is impossible to accommodate individual learning needs during such activities. Although this is correct, such reasoning contains a profound misconception about LS. It needs to be clarified under which circumstances learning style approaches are most beneficial for students and how that affects their performance during exams.

Information intake vs. information output

Considering the complexity of learning processes, we have to distinguish between information intake and information output. Curriculum delivery, skills acquisition and increasing understanding about subject areas are all variations of information intake for the brain, during which personalising learning through LS applications can make all the difference between learning success or failure. This is particularly the case when students have to learn something new and/or difficult. 

Exams and tests on the other hand, are situations where information output is required, during which students show what they know, what they have learned and how well they understand curriculum content. They are not taking in new information but have to demonstrate their knowledge under time pressure, and generally students find such situations quite stressful. It is a well-known fact that human beings find it very difficult to perform well under severe pressure and if they could, most students would avoid exams and tests altogether. As this is unfortunately not possible, strategies are needed for these often unpleasant and even threatening situations.

Wrong information intake = poor exam results


Educators need to understand that when students have to participate in learning processes (information intake) that don’t match their personal learning style, their concentration, memory and understanding will be impaired, resulting in poor exam results (information output) and often failure.

Significant differences

Considering learning styles in the context of information intake and output, the points of difference are these:

  • during the presentation of new and/or difficult information in class learning styles need to be accommodated to ensure understanding, long-term memory and the best possible learning outcome;
  • when students study and prepare for exams they need to be made aware of their personal learning styles and should be allowed to learn in their own way, in the right environment, and with the most appropriate study techniques for their own style;
  • during tests and exams LS applications are not so crucial because most students have enough flexibilities to cope with adverse situations; this is especially true when the learning process preceding the exam has been accomplished with teaching and study methods matching their personal learning styles. When students are allowed to learn in their best way, they understand and remember better and are much more confident in showing what they know in an exam situation - even when their personal learning styles are not being matched during the exam. Yet they are less prone to failure or having memory lapses because with LS based study techniques curriculum content is more readily available, even under pressure.        

Important conclusion:

Exam results improve when students have been allowed to learn and prepare themselves in their own best way, based on their personal learning style.

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About Barbara Prashnig

Professor Barbara Prashnig, a pioneer und visionary in the field of style diversity in leaning and working as well as professional development. Her passion is to help people in difficult situations succeeding through better self knowledge. She is the Founding Director and CEO of Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, New Zealand.