VARK® and Metacognition:
a catalyst for reflection

When VARK was launched in 1992, the founder, Neil Fleming, described it as “a catalyst for reflection” because the primary purpose of the VARK Questionnaire was to prompt METACOGNITION. In this article, we will discuss metacognition, introduce the research that shows it is associated with improved academic performance, and explore how VARK can be used to develop metacognitive processes.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition refers to the ability to think about and regulate one’s thought processes. It involves awareness of one’s thinking, understanding how to approach a learning task, and employing effective strategies to enhance learning and problem-solving. Metacognition goes beyond acquiring knowledge; it covers the reflective and self-aware aspects of learning.

In practice, metacognition is a cycle of planning, monitoring, and evaluating, where the learner considers what they know about their learning practices, the available learning strategies, and the requirements of the learning task.

Examples of metacognition include:

  • Planning and setting goals: Before starting a learning task, someone with strong metacognitive skills sets specific goals, outlines the steps needed to achieve those goals, and plans a strategy for effective learning.
  • Monitoring, evaluating, and adjusting: While learning, they monitor their understanding by regularly checking their comprehension. When they realize they are struggling with a particular concept, they adjust their approach, seeking additional resources or modifying their strategy.

What does research tell us about the importance of metacognition?

Research has consistently demonstrated a positive association between metacognition and academic performance across various educational contexts. Several studies highlight the importance of metacognitive skills in predicting and improving academic success:

  • A meta-analysis conducted by Hattie, Biggs, and Purdie (1996) found a strong correlation between metacognitive strategies and academic achievement. The study aggregated findings from numerous research projects and concluded that students who actively engaged in metacognitive processes tended to outperform their peers.
  • In another study, Flavell (1979) emphasized the significance of metacognition in the development of cognitive skills. The research showed that individuals with well-developed metacognitive abilities not only exhibited superior problem-solving skills but also demonstrated greater academic success.
  • A study by Schneider and Artelt (2010) explored the relationship between metacognitive skills and academic achievement among secondary school students. The findings revealed a positive correlation, indicating that students who demonstrated higher levels of metacognitive awareness tended to achieve better academic outcomes.
  • Furthermore, a study by Schoenfeld (1983) in the context of mathematics education found that students who engaged in metacognitive practices, such as monitoring their problem-solving processes and adjusting strategies when faced with challenges, exhibited improved problem-solving abilities, and enhanced performance in mathematics.

These findings collectively suggest that metacognition plays a crucial role in academic success. Students who possess and actively apply metacognitive skills are better equipped to navigate the complexities of learning, demonstrating improved problem-solving, critical thinking, and overall academic performance.

How does VARK encourage metacognition?

There are many ways to improve metacognition, and using VARK is an excellent way to start. Finding out and thinking about your VARK preference improves your metacognitive knowledge. The VARK Helpsheets contribute a range of strategies as inputs to the metacognitive process, and the VARK strategies can be applied in each of the planning, monitoring, and evaluating stages of the process.

VARK prompts you to start your metacognition journey by THINKING ABOUT HOW YOU LEARN.
When filling in the VARK Questionnaire, you answer questions about how you learn in everyday scenarios. Thinking about how you learn and about your VARK results increases your understanding of yourself as a learner.

VARK makes explicit the idea that there are different STRATEGIES for learning – select strategies from the VARK Helpsheets, based on your preferences and the task at hand.

VARK introduces the concept that LEARNING CAN BE IMPROVED by changing your learning behaviors – and this can be applied throughout the metacognitive process.

Practical steps to using VARK

If you want to use VARK to improve your academic performance, metacognition will be at the core of any changes you make, in terms of improving:

  • your understanding of yourself as a learner,
  • your selection of appropriate learning strategies, and
  • your process of planning, monitoring, and evaluating your learning.

Just being told what your VARK preference is won’t improve your learning.
You can make the most of your VARK preference by:

  • Thinking about your VARK result:
    Does it seem right? Think of some contexts in which your learning preference came into play (or didn’t).
  • Thinking about your current learning strategies:
    What are they?
    How well do they work?
    To what extent do they match up with your VARK preferences?
  • Considering improvements to your learning process:
    Are there any ways you could introduce strategies better aligned with your VARK preferences to improve your learning?

When to start using VARK

Try VARK when you are having trouble learning something.

It is important to apply VARK in real learning situations. Finding out how to learn better doesn’t tend to be beneficial unless you apply that knowledge to specific tasks.

Experimenting with new ways of studying when under the pressure of deadlines is difficult, so the ideal time to make VARK-related changes to your study practices is at the start of a course when you have more time for experimenting.

Another great time to use VARK to change your study practices is when you find something challenging and what you usually do isn’t working.

Consider your VARK preference throughout the metacognition cycle.

Start by considering your VARK preference when planning how to undertake a learning task, but don’t overlook the importance of regularly monitoring and evaluating your performance. Try a new strategy from the VARK Helpsheets, and then consider whether it enhanced your learning – if it did, plan to use this strategy more; if not, try another. This is essential if you want to use VARK to improve your learning!

Stepping through the metacognition cycle with VARK

Over time, the metacognitive process will become automatic, but at first, it will help to schedule pauses in your learning so that you can regularly monitor your progress, evaluate how your learning is going, and adjust your plan. Your VARK preference will come into play in each part of this process.


Metacognitive planning

What do I need to learn?
How am I going to learn it?

Use the VARK Helpsheets when choosing strategies for your learning task. Select strategies based on your preferences, what you know about what has worked for you before, the nature of the learning task, and the time you have allocated.
If you have a multimodal Visual-Read/write-Kinesthetic (VRK) preference and need to memorize the definitions for a list of terms, flashcards would be a good strategy choice. You might create your flashcards using written words (R), diagrams (V), or photos (K). If both diagrams and written words seem appropriate to the task, you might select written words because creating flashcards with written words would be faster.


Metacognition - monitoring

How am I doing at learning this material?
Check your understanding and learning during a task – for example through self-testing and questioning.
Visual: Draw an infographic or diagram to explain what you have learned – arranging and linking different bits of information will bring your attention to any confusion about concepts or the relationships between ideas.
Aural: Check your learning by talking with others. Try to explain what you are learning to someone else and use their feedback to identify any weak points in your understanding.
Read/write: Write an article to explain what you have learned in your own words. Look for areas that are difficult to explain; these are areas where you need to improve your understanding.
Kinesthetic: Think of real-life examples of the theories or ideas you have learned about, but also be sure you can explain the theories or ideas behind those examples.


Metacognition - evaluating

Am I learning the material effectively?
Visual: Draw a diagram showing the strategies you used and illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of each in your performance.
Aural: Discuss what you did to learn the material and how well it worked, with your teacher or other students.
Read/write: Make a list of things you did well and things that didn’t go so well.
Kinesthetic: Look at your results in detail and identify the strategies that contributed to the best and worst areas of your performance.

Be sure to take what you’ve discovered about your performance when PLANNING your future learning.


Metacognition – the awareness and regulation of one’s thought processes – is crucial for successful learning. VARK is an excellent way to improve metacognitive engagement as it prompts you to reflect on your learning strategies.

To use VARK effectively, consider what you know about yourself as a learner, as well as your learning tasks, when planning your learning strategies. It is important to monitor and evaluate your progress regularly during and following the learning task.

In essence, integrating VARK with metacognition enables you to move beyond just finding out what your VARK learning style is, to optimizing your learning process and fostering confidence and efficacy in your academic endeavors.

Points for discussion


  1. Heather Testing said:

    Test comment

  2. ERMA said:

    This will be very helpful for my English course.

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