Cognitive Learning Strategies for Students

Dear Students,

Here are some cognitive strategies that will help you learn and remember the information in the long term.

1. Concept mapping – This is a spatial cognitive strategy that utilizes visual arrangements. When you create a concept map for something, you’re learning. This activity takes the new information learned and places it into an organized structure. There are different formats of concept maps based on the type of information: (West, et al., 1991)

  • spider maps for different categories (typologies),
  • chain map for linear processes, and
  • hierarchy map for complex topics and the interrelationships of the system, subsystem, and parts.

2. Overlearning – This strategy requires you to learn something perfectly and then continue to study it through rehearsals (practice). This aids your accuracy in recalling the information from long-term memory.

3. Metaphors, analogies, and similes – These are figures of speech. Use these strategically to make connections to something you already know to encode information verbally and visually. This is referred to as dual coding in memory.

An analogy makes a comparison based on similar end results. Example: Taking medicines on a regular basis is like watering a garden. If you wait until the plants are a little wilted, it’s too late. Water every day (Source: The Altoona List of Medical Analogies). Here’s a visual analogy example about speed-reading that I created: Regular reading is to speed-reading as regular swimming is to an Olympic swimming competition.

A metaphor makes a comparison of two, unlike things. Generally, this is done for literary purposes or jokes. Example: Her eyes were glowing emeralds.

A simile is a type of metaphor that uses the word ‘like’ or ‘as’ to make a comparison. It can also form an analogy. Example: Speed-reading is like the Olympics; You need a lot of practice.

4. Frames – This is a way to organize information into a matrix. There are two types of frames, Type I and II. Type 1 is a chart of the main topics and their features. Type II is a rule-bound matrix for which you must apply logic or inference to complete it. See chart below for a science example for Type I. Frames can help you figure out what’s important (and might be on a test). This helps you analyze information and improves recall because you’re providing a structure to the information, which builds on your brain’s existing schema (understanding).

Function SubpartsFunction of Subparts
Swallowing Tube 
Small Intestine 
Large Intestine 
Source: Frame for the Human Digestive System (Vaughn, 1984)


West, C. K., Farmer, J. A., & Wolff, P. M. (1991). Instructional design: Implications from cognitive science. Prentice Hall.

P.S. Here’s the Google Doc of this blog as a takeaway! Let me know if you find it useful. For more ways to learn, view Student Learning Organizer with Metacognitive Strategies. Specific to language, view Practical Second Language Acquisition Strategies for a mixture of (meta)cognitive learner strategies.


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