What About “Make Sure You Draw All Your Work” On The Test?

Hey all. Dan Pink linked to a round up of education research that came out in 2019. There were studies on how good teachers were better than awards when it came to raising attendance rates; the benefits of sleep on learning; gender differences in math ability are social construct; black students get fewer warnings before heading to the principal’s office, and many others.

As you might expect, among the “many others” were studies on the benefits of arts:

As arts programs continue to face the budget ax, a handful of new studies suggest that’s a grave mistake. The arts provide cognitive, academic, behavioral, and social benefits that go far beyond simply learning how to play music or perform scenes in a play.

In a major new study from Rice University involving 10,000 students in third through eighth grades, researchers determined that expanding a school’s arts programs improved writing scores, increased the students’ compassion for others, and reduced disciplinary infractions. The benefits of such programs may be especially pronounced for students who come from low-income families, according to a 10-year study of 30,000 students released in 2019.

Unexpectedly, another recent study found that artistic commitment—think of a budding violinist or passionate young thespian—can boost executive function skills like focus and working memory, linking the arts to a set of overlooked skills that are highly correlated to success in both academics and life.

The one that drew my attention most was a study that found while doodling distracted from learning, intentional drawing reinforced learning and memory better than reading and note taking.  The way I read it, this approach may be the easiest way to integrate creative expression and the arts into any subject AND improve test scores.

In a follow-up experiment, the researchers compared two methods of note-taking—writing words by hand versus drawing concepts—and found drawing to be “an effective and reliable encoding strategy, far superior to writing.” The researchers found that when the undergraduates visually represented science concepts like isotope and spore, their recall was nearly twice as good as when they wrote down definitions supplied by the lecturer.

Importantly, the benefits of drawing were not dependent on the students’ level of artistic talent, suggesting that this strategy may work for all students, not just ones who are able to draw well.


Why is drawing such a powerful memory tool? The researchers explain that it “requires elaboration on the meaning of the term and translating the definition to a new form (a picture).” Unlike listening to a lecture or viewing an image—activities in which students passively absorb information—drawing is active. It forces students to grapple with what they’re learning and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense to them.

It made sense to me that drawing was beneficial because it forces one to take the information they are receiving, process it and then execute it into a meaningful depiction. Reading and writing down lecture notes don’t require that you be able to process the concept, only that you recognize and understand the individual words. If you have studied a foreign language you may have had the experience where you can pronounce the words flawlessly and know what each word means separately, but can’t translate the meaning of an entire sentence accurately.

The article discusses other reinforcing actions in of the increased number of steps and synaptic connections which are required to execute a drawing which helps to solidify concepts in memory, but that is how is how I conceptualize I read.

If you are interested in putting this into practice either for your own note taking or to assist students, there are suggestions of implementation – student created learning aids, interactive notebooks, data visualization (which apparently can be applied to literature); book/comic book making; and one-pagers where students visually show the teacher their understanding of the concept.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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1 thought on “What About “Make Sure You Draw All Your Work” On The Test?”

  1. Our youngest students know this – that drawing is important for learning. Here’s a quote from a six year old talking to his teacher, Karen Gallas, about learning and drawing during a science lesson on a butterfly’s struggle to emerge from a chrysalis: “… or if you don’t know what a wing is you can draw it and then you know”.
    Hopefully some of her students are now getting old enough to hold office and support the arts!
    Karen Gallas (1991) Arts as Epistemology: Enabling Children to Know What They Know. Harvard Educational Review: April 1991, Vol. 61, No. 1, pp. 40-51.
    Karen Gallas (1994) The languages of learning: How children talk, write, dance, draw and sing their understanding of the world. Teachers College Press.


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