Does highlighting what you read help you remember more easily?Featured science projectScience project video

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Time required:
1 day for preparation, 3 days for experiment
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This science fair project was performed to find out if students using a highlighter while studying would be able to recall facts better. The experiment was done by comparing the test scores of participants who were given an essay to study without the use of a highlighter, with those who were given an essay that was already highlighted, as well as those who were allowed to make their own highlights on the same essay.


The participants will perform better in the tests when they highlighted their own essays.



Memory refers to the ability of our brains to store information and recall it again when needed. It can be divided into long term memory and short term memory.
Long term memories are permanent and will remain with us for a long time. These are normally related to events that occur repeatedly in our lives. For example, we will never forget our names and the names of our family members. Important birthdays, anniversaries and telephone numbers are also unlikely to be forgotten. Long term memory is also useful for students when recalling what they have studied, and for adults to learn and remember new skills.

Short term memory is more likely to be used for a one-time event. We will not remember for long the faces we see when we walk down a street. Neither are we able to we recall what we had for dinner two weeks ago. These memories are easily forgotten as we do not try to actively recall these events, thus transferring them to our long term memory, unless they are important to us.

Scientific Terms

Long term memory, short term memory


The materials required for the science fair project:

-    3 essays of equal difficulty
-    20 questions about each essay
-    Model answers for the 3 essay questions
-    10 students aged 12 years old each
-    A stopwatch
-    A quiet examination room
-    10 highlighters


1.    For this science fair project, the independent variable is whether the participants are allowed to highlight their essays, or given already highlighted essays . The dependent variable is the test score of the participants. This is determined by marking and grading the essays. The constants (control variables) are the difficulty of the tests, the questions used for the test, the color of the highlighter, the time allowed for the participants to read the comprehensions and the time allocated for them to answer the questions.

2.    Select 10 students aged 12 years old to take part in this experiment. Give them each a copy of the 1st essay to read for a period of 2 hours. After that, collect the essays and allow the participants a 30 minute break.

3.    After the break, assemble the 10 students in the exam hall and give them the questions for the 1st essay. They will be allowed 1 hour to complete the test. Collect the answer sheets after the exam. Check the answers against the model answers and record the test results in a table, as shown below.

4.    On the 2nd day, use the highlighter pen to mark the important points in the 2nd essay. Highlight all 10 copies of the essays. Repeat steps 2 and 3 using the 2nd essay with the same students as before.

5.    On the 3rd day, give the same students the 3rd essay as well as a highlighter. Tell the students to highlight the important points in the essay. Repeat steps 2 and 3.


The results show that the students who were asked to highlight what they read performed only slightly better in the test.

Essay condition Effect of highlighting on test results (%)
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
No highlights 67 72 64 81 76 58 77 83 75 65
With highlights 66 73 67 78 77 61 78 81 77 67
Own highlights 71 75 69 83 81 65 81 85 79 72

The above results were then plotted onto a graph, as shown below.

Highlighting and Memory Science Fair Project


The hypothesis that the participants will perform better in the test when they highlighted their own essays has not been conclusively proven to be correct.

A good memory is very important for students who have to remember a lot of facts before sitting for an examination. There are a lot of techniques used to help them remember things better. Some students will make short notes while others will read their textbooks over and over again. Most students have the habit of highlighting their notes to mark the important points. This may help them to focus only on those points the next time they revise their notes.

Also consider

This science fair project can also be done using participants of a different age group.

The experiment may be modified to test the effects of using different color highlighters on test results.


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