How Using Colored Pens Can Make You a Better Student

How Using Colored Pens Can Make You a Better Student

“Open your notebook to page 116. It’s time to take notes.” One of my students took out her pencil bag; in it was a veritable treasure trove of colored pens. As I lectured, she switched colors for each sub-topic. Her notebook was beautiful, but it had a deeper purpose. She had ADHD and switching colors helped her focus on what she was writing and later studying.

We all know that color can impact us in some way. A blue room might calm you down, while a bright red one might rev you up. But color doesn’t just impact your mood or emotions – color also impacts how you learn. Studies have shown that using color can improve the retention of information and also that color can trigger the retrieval process in your brain. 

Using colored pens in your schoolwork – notes, planner, editing – can help you learn course content more easily and retrieve it when taking a quiz or test. Let’s talk about ways you can use colored pens effectively!

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How Using Colored Pens Can Make You a Better Student

Note Taking

You can use colored pens in a variety of ways while taking notes. I encouraged students to use them all the time in my classroom and when I was a student.

You can create a color-coding key to use while taking or refreshing your notes. Vocabulary terms are in purple, while concepts are in green. Not only will the terms stand out to you more when you review, they will also help you find information in your own notes faster.

Just a word here: color-coding doesn’t work for all people. Some get distracted by the multiple colors. If you find that it’s more trouble than it’s worth, drop it. 

You can also use colored pens to show relationships within your notes. Let’s say you’re creating a web diagram, but want to show linkages between different parts of the web. Use colored pens to draw arrows to and from related sections. 

Color can make reading your notes easier, as well. If you’ve created a chart, use different colors for each row or column. It’s so much easier to read than if it’s all the same color.

I also recommend colored pens for adding drawings to your notes. This can be done while in class or while refreshing your notes. Make the drawings pop from the page with some color and you will probably remember them better come test day.

Planner Use

This is my go-to use for colored pens. When I’m filling in my academic planner or organizing a to-do list, I whip out my colored pens. 

Create a color-coding chart for your planner. Think of the categories that take up most of your time – school, work, extra-curricular – and assign a color to each category. When you add an event from a category, write it in using the assigned color.  

Having multiple colors on the paper lets me see what is taking up most of my time without even having to read the information. 


Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

When I have to revise my own writing or freshen up my notes, I bust out the colored pens! I usually use colored pens because they stand out better on the page. When I’m refreshing notes, I also know that I added that information later.

You can also color-code them. Read one time through and use orange for editing issues. Read another time through and use green for revisions related to your argument.

Notes to self

I often use multiple colored pens when I write notes to myself. I switch colors to emphasize the most important part of the note, such as a phone number or appointment time. Don’t forget that meeting with your instructor!


Colored pens make me (and many of my students) happy. Happy students learn better. (That’s one of the reasons listening to music you like can improve your studying!) So, if they make you happy, bust them out!

My Fav Colored Pens

Like most teachers, I have favorite pens that I keep on hand and guard jealously. Here are my top 3 brands!

I have these Inkjoy Gel pens in all the colors. They write so smoothly and really are a joy to use!

I initially bought these Pilot Frixion pens to use in my Rocketbook notebook, but then fell in love with them. The colors are deep and it’s ERASABLE! It seems extreme, but this has changed my life. I also use these in my paper planner since I can make changes whenever I need to.

A teacher and student classic. Flair pens are smooth and the color stands out really well on paper. They last forever – take it from someone who has spent hours grading with them!

Like my former students who discovered how colored pens helped her, I hope these ideas get you experimenting. Try using colored pens in a new way for a few weeks and see if you have any improvements!

How do you use colored pens in the classroom or while studying? Let me know in the comments below!

Related Posts: The Best Tips from the Home Edit to Organize Your Study Space, Study Breaks to the Rescue: 6 Ideas for the Best Breaks, Top 5 Study Distractions and How to Avoid Them

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