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TOPIC: how do we study: aphantasia and learning

how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2347

  • wellannihal
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Hello,

I am 18 years old, I discovered I have aphantasia in january 2015. English is my third language so if there is anything I wrote you don't understand just tell me and I will reformulate it ;)


The topic of "studying" is something that truly passionates me. I'll share my own thoughts about how I study, I hope you find this interesting and I would love to see your opinions.

But before starting, I would like to say something that I think is crucial. In my opinion, being born with aphantasia doesn't determine you, but it affects you. Let me explain. Being born with aphantasia doesn't necessarily entail that you will be good at some things (like mathematics) and bad at others (like drawing and appreciating art), but it makes that likely.

What I'm trying to say is that my way of learning could be only mine, and not every other non-imager's case. But since other non-imagers told me they had "exactly the same studying methods" than me, I think it is likely that at least some non-imagers experience the same than me. With that in mind, I'm going to explain how studying is for me.

In class I have always paid attention - and I still do. I have always had excellent remarks from teachers. But when I was younger I told my mother a few times - always kind of joking - "If I didn't go to class, I would have better marks". Today I think that's true, even at college where things are harder. Why?

(I will try to explain with analogies, it will be much easier to understand).

I love watching movies and reading - from phantasy books to autobiographical books and self-help books. However, one hour after reading a book or watching a movie, it is impossible for me to explain in detail what the book/movie was about, I can just explain the general plot (but really imprecisely). A week later, I cannot even tell the names of the characters of the movie/book - not even the protagonist's name. (If I achieve to remember the names, it's because I have repeated those names or listened to them after reading the book - as Harry Potter for example - so I never forget them).

Furthermore, when I read out loud a text, I don't understand absolutely nothing of what the text was about. Absolutely nothing. I must read it in silence in my head in order to understand it - and that way I have excellent marks in reading comprehension tests. So for books in college I read them, make a summary chapter by chapter, and then memorize that summary (I will explain this later)

Well, similarly, when I take notes in class, I UNDERSTAND what I am writing, I even reformulate it in my own words - I have read some books about "efficient note-taking methods", so that's not the problem. But if someone asked me the next day to explain what last class was about... I would be unable to answer, like it happens with books and movies. It's like I have some kind of "impairment", some kind of "amnesia" in my brain. I don't really process what I write or listen in class, even if I understood it perfectly while writing/listening to it.

So how did I achieve to be in a good university now? I use ONLY ONE LEARNING METHOD: rote learning. Whether it is for a theory's proof in mathematics, a thesis in philosophy, a map in geopolitics or vocabulary in English, I memorize the information as if it was a poem. I mean, I divide the information in chunks, and then memorize it. So, if I want to access information "D" I must first remember what informations "A", "B" and "C" were. So everything I know, I know it because I have memorized it by hearth. And I have done that all my life for every single thing I had to study, so now I became extremely gifted at rote memorization, and the more I train, the better I become. I am currently learning 10 pages by hearth every week as a "routine" - something that would have been IMPOSSIBLE for me years ago.

Depending on the subject, I learn the information as we saw it in class or I write a detailed summary of what we saw in class and then memorize it - sentence by sentence, word by word. When I was younger it was hard, but now it became almost "effortless" if I can say that. (But I repeat, I AM NOT AT ALL a super smart guy, most of the people in my university are way smarter than me, it's just I have practised this way of studying my entire life, so I became good at it!!!)

Let's take an example. In geopolitics we have to do 4-hour essays in which we have to compare information from 5 different 20-pages-chapters we saw in class. It is evident I cannot just "rewrite by hearth" what I have memorized, I wouldn't have the time and I wouldn't be answering the question. So what I do is write in a draft for 20 minutes all the information I know, and then reorganize it in a way I can use it in the essay.

So, what I am saying is that I can only construct a logical reasoning AFTER having recalled all the information (for example, by writing it in a draft). Without the information at hand, it would be impossible for me to make a complex logical reasoning.

And in order to learn by hearth - word by word - you don't actually need to understand the information. That's why I say that going to class is kind of a "waste of time" for me. I mean, I can learn by hearth in 30 minutes what we see in 2 hours in geopolitics if the teacher simply gave me the information in a printed sheet of paper. It doesn't even change me if the information is written by me or if is in a textbook, I just memorize it by hearth. I mean, you could tell me that going to class is useful for me because I write my own summaries and I take notes in my own words, so then memorizing it becomes easier. Well, there is some truth in it, but actually, I only do that when there is not a good textbook available. For mathematics for example, I highly prefer to memorize every definition from the textbook rather than having to memorize it from my untidy writing. Last year, in high school, for biology, I preferred to memorize the printed pages our teacher gave us - which were extremely well written - instead of the notes I took in class.

I am probably exaggerating when I say that "if I didn't go to class, I would have better marks", but I made my point. Actually, I could be extremely biased and wrong in everything I said, and that's exactly why I ask your opinion. But even if I am totally wrong, I hope that what I am telling you will make other people have new ideas or connections while reflecting about this and thus maybe discover something new about aphantasia.


Truly thanks a lot for your time and attention!
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2350

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It's great that you've found a way to work with your own learning-style without getting discouraged. Well done! It sounds like you put a lot of work into your studies.

For me, rote learning is the least effective method imaginable. Basic repetition drives me mad and makes me prone to remembering facts only in a particular order or in a particular setting (that is, if I don't get angry enough to quit). At a Classical Archaeology exam in university I recalled the names and order of the late Roman emperors only because I had taught myself the names (rote learning) while doing a game with my feet – a game that I repeated under the desk front start 'til end every time I needed a name. Very inefficient and mind-numbing for me, and I probably would have done it some other way if I could've come up with another way of learning a grocery list of names quickly. For me, learning is all about finding similarities, analysing the facts or understanding the mechanics involved. If I want to learn something very quickly, I tell (teach) someone about it. I don't remember something just from reading it, but if I repeat what I've read, aloud, in my own words with my own analysis, that sticks.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2353

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I see, you learn by logic, by understanding things. I'm completely the opposite ¬¬.

I would like to ask you a question:
Do you think aphantasia modified the way you learn? I mean do you think having aphantasia had some drawbacks/advantages for you at school/college?

For example, in my case I think I would learn in a completely different way if I could visualize. I'm not sure, but I think I started to really study by hearth for biology and geography in high school, where the teachers explained a lot with maps/drawings and it was hard for me to explain in exams. And then when I saw rote learning was efficient for me, I transformed it little by little in my studying method for every subject.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2354

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For me personally, I think the only time visualisation capabilities would have helped me was one 7th grade geography test. The teacher assigned us a map of our country as reading, with no instructions, and told us there'd be a test. I had no idea what to do with the map and on the day of the exam the questions were mostly of the type "If going from Point A to Point B, which rivers do you pass?" In retrospect, the teacher's assumption was clearly that we'd look at the map in our heads and answer the questions. I failed miserably, of course.

Obviously, if I could visualise I might have used that somehow in learning, but not being able to use my senses in memory recall hasn't caused problems in school. When visuals are involved, I often fairly easily memorise the way my eyes move across those visuals. I'm very lucky in that respect. I can't relive any visuals used in class or in the literature, but I can often recall basic things about them based on conclusions I drew and eye motions and if I see them I recognise them. I might associate a particular thought about a military invasion with how my eyes moved from one part of the map to the other, and that might trigger me to remember which countries were involved... so I'm using the map even though I don't see it (this only works if it's a very familiar map, though – knowing very little about, say, India, I would have trouble pulling any information beyond the direction from such an exercise done with a states of India map).
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2355

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That is very interesting! So in your case having aphantasia didn't have many drawbacks/advantages at school - except for subjects like geogaphy, which is normal.

Unfortunately, I am not good with the kinesthetic type of learning like you are, but I will try to use your technique, it might work, we will see!


Sorry! I have one last question! :P It is something I took for granted that it was the case of every person having aphantasia!!

As I said in my first message, 1 week after watching a movie or reading a book, I don't remember what the movie/book was about - I don't even remember the name of the main characters. Does the same happen to you? (I would also love to hear other people answer's concerning this!!)
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2357

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I'm not entirely sure how aphantasia affected my learning. I don't think it had major implications in most cases as I likely learnt to compensate for a lack of mental imagery. Not being aware of aphantasia at the time, and not exactly being a social child, I'm not really sure how my learning strategies varied from other children.

The only example I can think of is in maths. When I first started secondary school I had a wonderful maths teacher. He used to draw everything out on the board for us when teaching so there was always a visual right there to look at. I was very good at maths, getting top marks in most tests. It was one of my favorite subjects and the way he drew everything out on the board allowed me to understand it very well.
Then he left. Our new teacher never drew anything. He would stand at the front and just talk. Tell us what to do, but without the visuals I was completely lost. I thought he was the most awful teacher at the time, now I guess he was just expecting us to visualise in our heads.

We used to have a little test at the end of each week in maths to see how much we'd taken in of that weeks study. The last week of my old teacher being there I scored 99%. The first week of our new teacher I scored 3%.
As my first teacher was so good at creating images for me I suppose I never learnt how to take in the information without visuals, so when he left my understanding of maths left with him. I went from being top of the class to being placed in the 'special' maths class as I struggled so much.

wellannihal wrote:
As I said in my first message, 1 week after watching a movie or reading a book, I don't remember what the movie/book was about - I don't even remember the name of the main characters. Does the same happen to you? (I would also love to hear other people answer's concerning this!!)
Books I tend to remember better, I think because it's all words and I think in words I retain the information more. Movies I can sometimes remember bits and pieces of words that were said, but I don't remember them as well. I'm not good with names in general so am usually not good at remembering them. And movie plots tend to fade from my mind fairly quickly. If I watch the movie again I then remember it as I see it, and can sometimes remember what's going to happen next, but if it's been a while I might watch right up to the end before I remember that I've actually seen this movie before.
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else
means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. - E.E. Cummings
Last Edit: 1 year 8 months ago by Velvet.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2358

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Velvet wrote:
without the visuals I was completely lost. I thought he was the most awful teacher at the time, now I guess he was just expecting us to visualise in our heads.
Wow, simply thanks a lot.

I think something similar is happening to me in mathematic's class, that might be the reason I'm not understanding much with my current teacher!!
Now that I know it, I might be able to deal with it - for example by doing the drawings myself, or by trying to look for drawings in textbooks and following the class with the textbooks close to me. I will come up with something ;) Really thanks a lot!

Velvet wrote:
If I watch the movie again I then remember it as I see it, and can sometimes remember what's going to happen next, but if it's been a while I might watch right up to the end before I remember that I've actually seen this movie before.

Yes, that happens to me too, but not only with movies, also with books.
For example, it is quite annoying not being able to read the second book of a trilogy a year after reading the book 1... If I re-read the book 1, I will remember what happens little by little, but if I don't re-read it, I won't remember anything and I won't understand much of the second book...
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2363

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wellannihal wrote:
As I said in my first message, 1 week after watching a movie or reading a book, I don't remember what the movie/book was about - I don't even remember the name of the main characters. Does the same happen to you?
It depends on how interesting I found the film or book to start with, and also to some extent what language I saw/read it in. English, Swedish or French is not so much a problem. With Italian I start losing names and events. Breton is even worse. And when we get to subtitled media in languages I don't speak at all, I completely lose names and everything but the general gist by the next week. The more I have to focus, the less I remember, basically, but on the other end of the spectrum, if I pay too little attention I also forget quickly.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2369

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Well, that's extremely interesting!

I have no problem whatsoever to follow the film or the book, that's not the problem: I understand them perfectly. My only problem is that I forget everything in a week... For example, I have read a tons of fantasy trilogies with endings that have amazed me... and I don't remember how the book ended, even if I found it extremely interesting!

So this is not something that happens to every Aphantasiac, I will dig deeper into it!

Thanks a lot!
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 8 months ago #2427

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yes, I find that I forget very quickly - can't remember book and movie titles, can't remember people I meet or only knew a little bit...can't remember who told me something, and then I will repeat it as new news to the same person who told me. I'm sure I can come across as a blithering idiot at times. Oh well.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 7 months ago #2456

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I can't remember what I did as a kid, my best subject was Language Arts(English). Oddly my worst was math (well, I couldn't remember formulas, all that thing over thing is the blah blah formula...) I can do everyday math, just not mid-algebra onwards... T_T (Visualization might've been useful there...) I can't do timestables (in that memorization way we were meant to do)! Except for like, 2, 3, 4, 5...

Anyway, what I've found works for me as an adult, for a test on a large amount of stuff, is the first time I'm reading it, I highlight anything I think will be important. Then I go back and re-read anything I've highlighted, a few times, and if possible, once more the night before or day of the test. My memory is generally decent but I struggle with numbers (and the last few things I had to test on involved remembering numbers...) if no numbers are involved I am pretty good with facts (history was an iffy one for me because I could remember the facts but had difficulty if I needed to relate it to a date.)

I can remember phone numbers from childhood ok, but can't really remember new ones, however I theorize this is because I had to dial them as a child, while now they've saved on my phone and I just hit the persons name...

The only thing I'm currently studying on and off is Japanese. Mainly the words themselves just live somewhere in my mind, the characters (note I only know the 2 syllabic writing styles fully, the kanji(chinese characters) I only know certain ones. I think I kind of use motion for remembering those (from drawing it.) I don't know, they just kind of appear. It's harder with the kanji, that's why I only recognize a few (harder to draw than to recognize, I can recognize more than I can draw if that makes sense.)
~*~ Still figuring it all out, I either have aphantasia or weak visualization ability, definitely 0 purposeful visualization. ~*~
~*~ I suffer from PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, OCD; and potentially some sort of high functioning autism, but that one is unconfirmed. ~*~
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 4 months ago #3175

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Oh, I remember how I was studying... It wasn't easy :) But I found http://smartyessay.com/ who helped me when I had no time to do smth! ;) Be sure that it's very cozy :P
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 2 months ago #3944

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Rote learning is very hard for me, but not quite impossible. To really *learn* something, I have to understand it, to grok it (as Heinlein said). Only then can I say or write something useful and intelligible about that thing. I work a lot using intuition and gut feel.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 2 months ago #4131

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wellannihal wrote:
As I said in my first message, 1 week after watching a movie or reading a book, I don't remember what the movie/book was about - I don't even remember the name of the main characters. Does the same happen to you? (I would also love to hear other people answer's concerning this!!)

This is me exactly.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 1 year 20 hours ago #4472

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Yes, I call my memory 'my forgettery'.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 11 months 4 weeks ago #4484

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Velvet, I feel very strongly that was my maths classroom experience as a child (like your teacher with NO visuals...) but I seriously don't remember anything about the beginnings at all! Just the feelings: I am no good at this. Ever,

I also have a very similar recall as you described with books and movies. In addition, I believe movies go too quickly for me, make my head spin. I think it is because I am unconsciously trying to memorize everything in order to remember later... I love reading - maybe because I can slow down, speed up and re-read whenever I want to!
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 11 months 4 weeks ago #4485

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Faustine, this is very interesting to me as well. I have noticed that I do not waste my time with reading/watching books/films that are shallow and just sort of fun. It may be that the content (or the non-content, lol) is just too little for me to even desire to retain! On the other hand, I do love reading/watching books/films in English, French and German when they have 'heavier' content (philosophical, historical, etc.) I believe that it is at least partially because I connect to them with my feelings and my feelings help me in recall. Besides, why recall light, airy and fluffy nothingness?!

As I have gotten older, I have become much less picky with what I watch because I can use it as an excuse to knit! I am not trying to retain anything at all, just relax and get some knitting done - it does also turn off the thoughts in my head a bit as well, unless the voices from the film give me a headache! If a movie is more in-depth, I stop knitting and dive into the aesthetics of the film, oops. But with books, I still cannot bring myself to waste time on reading something shallow and have a very hard time reading something with depth that is written in poor style. Can't really knit while reading, so there is less motivation. I have tried to listen to recorded books, but I almost never like the voices enough to finish the recordings.
Last Edit: 11 months 4 weeks ago by Blackstage.
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how do we study: aphantasia and learning 11 months 4 weeks ago #4486

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I come across as a blithering idiot, too - I remember back in university orchestra days, I couldn't remember names of composers and the pieces we were playing, even after many hours of practicing and performing. I also could not memorize my part (cello) and play it without the notes in front of my face, embarrassing for years - BUT I could sing my part when others would do a voice version of the piece!
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