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Using Colour to Improve Your Study

Using Colour to Improve Your Study

We know that different colours have a different impact on our brains. Warm colours (red, yellow, orange) stimulate the brain, while cool colours (blue, green, pink) calm us down and help us focus.

But how can we best apply this knowledge to our learning?

Many of us use highlighters to mark up our study notes. But often this gets out of hand and we end up just colouring the whole text. This does little to help us organise our notes, let alone improve our ability to memorise them. In fact, studies show that the colour of the highlighter used has little to no impact on memory retention, as the colours tend to blur.

We all have subjects that we like better, some that we struggle with, some that we find boring. If we learn what the different colours mean and how they can affect our memory and attention spans, we can use colours to our advantage to help improve our marks.

In our modern world, we are bombarded with information and stimulation every day. Our brains can’t possibly store every bit of information and have to constantly make decisions about what to keep and what to discard. When it comes to memory, the brain will most easily remember and store the information we give the most attention.

The more attention we pay to a piece of stimulus, the more chance there is of our brain moving that information to our long-term memory, where we need it to be for study. Research shows that this increased attention also speeds up our reaction time, making it easier and faster to recall the information when triggered to do so (Greene, Bell and Bowyer). Obviously, this has enormous benefits when it comes to exams

When we study a range of subjects for reasonable lengths of time, our brains become fatigued. We need to find ways to keep them engaged and activated. Using different coloured folders, notebooks and sticky labels for different subjects is a great way to help with this. It helps us organise our notes and content, ensuring that it doesn’t all just sit in one big pile on our desks, as well as encouraging our brains to compartmentalise the information and switch more readily from one subject to the next. 

So, what are the best colours to use?


Green is a great colour when it comes to concentration. We associate it with nature and a sense of calm and relaxation, so it can help if you need to de-stress. Green can improve our reading ability and comprehension, so it is excellent to use for any subject that has a lot of text (eg Biology). If you’re feeling tired or bored, working with green will help revitalise you, so it’s always a good idea to turn to the ‘green subject’ later in a study session. 


Blue improves our productivity. It is associated with calmness, logic and intelligence. It is a good choice for any subject that might present a challenging learning situation as it keeps us calm and relaxed. It is also great for subjects that requires us to engage in deep thinking or reflection.


Purple is associated with wisdom, critical thinking and philosophy. It is a great choice for subjects that require a lot of concentration and interpretation. It also inspires creativity, imagination and artistic flair.


Pink lowers our stress levels. It is a soothing and calming colour that we associate with comfort and warmth. Choosing it for one of your least favourite subjects can help change your attitude.


Orange is seen as being enthusiastic and inviting. It is a mood lifter that increases the amount of oxygen to our brains. Orange is associated with humour, optimism and creativity, all of which positively affect our levels of productivity. In Chinese Feng Shui, orange is seen as a yang colour that stimulates focus and organisation. 


Yellow is associated with confidence, friendliness and optimism. It is an attention-grabbing colour that can lift our spirits. It can be a good choice for a subject we find a little boring. Perhaps avoid it for the subjects we find most difficult though as it can also create frustration if over-used. 


Red is a stimulating colour that we associate with energy and intensity. It can increase our levels of courage and determination, and help to make time pass faster. As such it can be a good colour to use for a difficult subject. Red is often used for marking as it is attention grabbing and can have a negative connotation as we want to avoid the amount of red on our returned tasks. Marking your practice tests or revision activities in red can be a great incentive to improve.


Black suggests seriousness, power and sophistication. It can help you to make sense of things you find confusing as it pares it back to basics. It is good for subjects that involve formula or logical processes.


White is associated with clarity, simplicity and space, and can help to clear our minds. If you are feeling overwhelmed or confused, a blank piece of white paper can act as a clean slate, giving you a fresh start and a chance to re-organise your thoughts. It is great to use for initial planning and mind maps. 

Using different colours for different subjects can not only help us get better organised, but it can work with neuroscience to help us stimulate our memories and retain more information. 

Jean Yates has been a high school teacher for nearly 30 years. She is passionate about helping students achieve to their potential to be able to pursue their dreams. Find out more at www.edvantageqld.com

Author: Sim K


Sim K


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