To emphasize. Techniques of study 1/8.

With this home a series of posts that goes directly to the marrow of the work of the student: to the study techniques. But also to the marrow of any professional who needs to update himself continuously.

To the university student the study abilities €œassume to him€, as the value to the soldier (1).

But, when it learned those abilities? Adapt their do abilities to the university surroundings?

If I must speak by my experience and the one of others, the principles are hard. You arrive to fight itself with examinations of a few subjects, 40 or 50 pages of a book at the most, and you face suddenly full whole books of a totally new slang for you and subjects that demand a form entirely different to study. Anatomy, embryology, physiology, histology. Leaves and more leaves full of schemes and figures marked with the minimum detail.

It is as if you happened to go in bicycle to drive a motorcycle without classes to drive previous. All do not adapt easily.


Still I am about to find the first student who does not emphasize his notes or their books. It is with fluorescent labelling thicknesses, with pencils, or with a sad ball-point pen, the landscape of the university notes is plagued of lines of colors.

Certainly whatever it is reading this article remembers that compa±ero/a enthusiastic that agilely handles the labellers on its notes in the library. Perhaps the fan to the colors is even the own reader.

He is not strange: all guide of study techniques advises to the student who emphasizes the important concepts that she is finding in the text. He is demonstrated in multiple studies that are easier to remember what it has marked itself (2).

In addition, it is easy to do, he learns himself quickly and he much more does not demand time of which you need to read.

Why to emphasize he would have, in theory, to work?

  • Because he uses the €œeffect of isolation€: within a list of words, it is easier to remember that one than he distinguishes himself semantically of the others, or that he belongs to another language (P. ex. €œcar€ in a list of animal names).
  • Because, before emphasizing, it is necessary to include all the text to decide what word or phrase must be marked, and this implies an active work on the material that later will be necessary to remember.

Then, to emphasize it is good? He is not nothing clear€¦


This is the conclusion at which Dunlosky and cabbages (3) in a revision published in 2013 arrive. It is a demolishing conclusion, but by itself it does not change lives. I have read it more than a dozen of times and still itself emphasizing the text of this revision while I read it and I learn more on this technique and many others€¦

I cannot either resign€¦

I cannot either resign€¦

Most of the studies demonstrate that the results in later tests and examinations are similar in subjects to which are allowed them to emphasize and those that only read the text on which they are going away to examine.

We are going to see the reasons by which to emphasize can lose its mental effectiveness.

1. Excess of underlining: If you go marking text, you are not able to remember it so well. You begin not to distinguish a phrase emphasized of another one and lose the advantages of the €œeffect of isolation€. In addition, to emphasize much text is more passive, mentally speaking, that to emphasize little. If you emphasize much, you are not selecting, you are not processing so well the information.

The English-speakers call €œjaundiced text€ to the excess of underlining in that mythical fluorescent yellow that all we have used sometimes. (*ictericia: yellowish coloration of the skin and mucous due to an increase of the bilirubin in blood that ends up being accumulated in weaves)

2. Inadequate selection of the noticeable thing: the more you dominate a matter or a set of disciplines, better you use the technique of the underlining. The students novate to them have more difficulties to decide what is important (That can explain a purely personal observation: I emphasized text much more when she was in 1º of race that when I arrived at 3º and 4º from Medicine. By greater maturity, greater knowledge of the medical matters).

Also the motivation is important. In a study in which it was awarded with money to the experimentation subjects that better notes removed, those that they had allowed to emphasize secured the best score (and the prize), on the contrary that those that only read.

3. Loss of connections between concepts: to know to what type of examination you face can be crucial at the time of deciding if to emphasize or not: In a study of 1992 it was observed that to emphasize a history text it helped to answer better the questions on data, but not those that forced to make inferences. In this case, to emphasize emphasized the concepts, but it prevented to process the connections between the concepts. It seems that to emphasize type test adapts far better to the examinations (multiple answers) who to the questions with short answer.

4. Loss of opportunity: for Dunlosky and cabbages, to emphasize is not detrimental by itself, that is to say, it does not prevent to learn. But it can occupy a time that could be dedicated to more productive strategies.

5. Illusion of competition: the risk exists of which the student believes that she has learned the matter because €œalready there is underlining€. This does not have to occur by seated. All we have had the experience to have memorised concepts and processes after to have read and underlining the notes, but this probably is due to the facility of the matter at issue or to that we were especially alert in that occasion.

The problem resides in which to emphasize is relatively easy and therefore it can be a passive process, and not always gives rise to the same result, that is to say, to begin to memorise.


I have been some weeks reflecting on the subject and commenting it with Medicine students of several courses. Some have tried to follow the advice of the experts and to emphasize less, although they have not obtained it, at least of entrance. All almost agree in a thing: they do not think to resign to emphasize.

And if search in my person, I occur of noses with the evidence of which there am underlining not few phrases of the article of Dunlosky. I have marked the conclusions, but it is certain that of that form something cost to me more to read the nonnoticeable text, where also there are interesting commentaries.

What I recommend to you?

  1. It perfects your techniques: you do not emphasize in excess. It tries to at the most limit the underlining a phrase by paragraph. If you feel the urgent necessity to emphasize more, it holds and simply it recites aloud what it seems important to you. That also helps you to determine ideas.
  2. It uses the material that adapts: the alive and fluorescent colors can tire the view after long hours studying. They are the materials most spectacular and entertained to use (and already we know that at the time of examinations one is wishing to entertain itself and so it is), but are not essential. A simple pencil of two colors (blue and red) or of graphite even can be sufficient.
  3. You do not emphasize to emphasize: we have already seen that to color text he does not mean that you have memorised it. If you perceive that you are cansado/a and not you are internalising what you are marking, leaves it and limits to you to read. The erroneous underlining can confuse to you more than to facilitate the later study to you. Instead of that, motivate changing the study strategy to you: it reads while you walk, takes a little tea or coffee (if he is early, it remembers how you must use caffein), go out to give a fast return to the apple (it activates the cerebral circulation), or makes a few cards of review (flashcards).
  4. Test and decides: you do not create to me nor you create to Dunlosky on feet juntillas. Its fantastic revision has provided us a valuation of the scientific evidence available, but each student is a world. The study techniques are to YOUR service and not the other way around. You test and uses what it works to you here and now.



Other entrances on study techniques:


  2. Lorch RF. Text-signaling devices and to their effects on reading and memory processes. Educational Psychology Review 1989; 1:209-234.
  3. Dunlosky J, Rawson KA, Marsh EX, Nathan MJ, Willinghamd DT. Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: Educational Promising directions from cognitive and psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 2013; 14:4-58.
Almudena Trinidad

I am otorrinolaring³loga doctor in a hospital of Madrid and Professor Asociada de Medicina in the UAM. I help Medicine students to develop more effective techniques of study to obtain better notes, to remember during more time and to feel like more happy insurances and with its studies.

7 Commentaries
  • Marian
    Published to 08:24 h, 23 March To respond

    The truth is that I am a subrayadora, totally. I am almost incapable to face some notes to me that are without emphasizing, since its reading is done to me very monotonous, and in addition the fact to emphasize them makes me be concentrated in which I am reading, since if I only read there are times that I end up thinking about my things while my eyes continue reading the notes. Perhaps there is no a clear benefit in the underlining, but for my the simple fact that it maintains to me concentrated seems to me an important benefit.
    It is truth that we fall in the excess of underlining, and perhaps in that if it could work. Sometimes what I do if I see that I need to emphasize too much is to use a labeller or a showier color most important more super it and the others I emphasize it with a ball-point pen or a clarita painting, does not emphasize so much but clears the acute subrayitis to me that enters to me sometimes.
    Thanks for the advice!
    A greeting and good week.

    • Almudena Trinidad
      Published to 20:06 h, 24 March To respond

      Thanks to you to comment!
      The truth is that, to date of today, I am in favor of which each student uses the technique that goes to him well, although the scientific evidence available does not advise it. That yes, I recommend warmly that you prove all that exist, because it is worth the trouble to review the own methods. But to emphasize goes to you well, ahead.
      You have proven cards (flashcards)?

      • Marian
        Published to 21:25 h, 24 March To respond

        If! I commented it by twitter (I am @Marianazul92 in twitter but for the commentaries of the blog to twitter I have left short). The truth is that they work. I always used to do summaries, but this enough more cash to me (and fast).

  • Aurora L³pez Llames
    Published to 14:09 h, 03 April To respond

    Very good entrance, enchants your blog to me. The truth is that every time I emphasize less, I indicate something, new concepts€¦
    Another thing is that every time I am more customary to emphasize text in the pdf. It is of utility when you return later on the same subject, some weeks or some months later.
    A hug,

    • Almudena Trinidad
      Published to 19:14 h, 11 April To respond

      I also emphasize text in the pdf of the articles, because there yes that interests to mark 2 or 3 interesting ideas to me. But when they are books, not always I emphasize. The underlinings sometimes make difficult the reading to me.
      Thanks to happen to you and to comment.

  • inflatable castles Murcia
    Published to 09:38 h, 28 May To respond

    Who does not emphasize nowadays. If until the .PDF readers they allow you to emphasize in colors. Very good post, although thought that 🙂 was going to have underlining techniques

    • Almudena Trinidad
      Published to 10:24 h, 30 May To respond

      Then it would not be bad idea to speak of some concrete technique, but when I wrote it I thought that he was something very personal and that the readers of the blog (adult students) were not going to change of colors nor technical. Most important it is to insist on that we do not go emphasizing, because therefore we commited ourselves to read with more attention and to select better.
      Nevertheless, there is an idea that a Medicine student told me of my Faculty, that consisted of using colors different from diseases and drugs according to what system or organ would belong, or according to what cranial nerve or antibiotic he would be associate to which he was studying. For him he was infalibre. For example, everything what it could be dealt with terramicina went noticeable in yellow, because the terramicina ointments have that color. Penicillins in blue, etc. Another student used colors for different organs: all that with the lung went noticeable in blue by its association with the air or the atmosphere.
      In summary, it is necessary to try to associate of multiple forms which we studied.

      Thanks to comment!

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