School girl studying at a desk.

The best study tips for low vision students

Study tips that integrate assistive technology and can be used for midterms, finals and course assessments.

One of the questions that I received at a talk I gave recently asked about study tips for low vision students, and how to help low vision students study for college exams. While I don’t take a lot of exams in my upper-level college classes since my professors prefer to assign projects, I’ve had to take plenty of exams over the years and have harnessed the power of several high-tech tools to create accessible studying materials that work well for me with low vision. Here are some of the best study tips for low vision students, from a college student with low vision.

Use a tinted background for study materials

I am very sensitive to lights, especially bright lights, and have found that reading text on a white background can cause eyestrain for me pretty quickly. One of the ways I deal with this is by using a tinted background for study materials so that I don’t have to look at a bright white background. Some examples of how I use a tinted background and avoid bright white light include:

In addition to all of these things, I also wear tinted glasses which help to some degree but are not the only tool that I use to deal with bright lights.

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Ask for a copy of notes

Many of my friends that are blind or that have low vision have an accommodation listed in their Disability Services file that allows for students to get copies of notes from the professor or to download notes from an external course website. I typically take my own notes in Microsoft OneNote or a notepad app and then compare them against the notes or video lectures that the professor posts on the course website or that they send to me so that I can make sure I copied down everything correctly, or that I drew graphs/visuals in a way that makes sense.

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Consider using a simplified reading display

I love using simplified reading displays to read text! For a lot of the websites and study materials that I access from my college website and other research sources, I can use web browser extensions that change the display of the webpage so that the page is well-formatted and the font size can be adjusted- though many of these simplified reading displays can be accessed offline as well. This is my preferred method for reading research sources with assistive technology, as they are easy to activate and often include built-in text-to-speech. I’ve linked several free options below for using a simplified reading view across different devices.

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Create digital flashcards

I’ve used two different tools to create digital flashcards for my classes- Quizlet and my Amazon Echo Dot.

Quizlet is a free website that allows users to create flashcard sets and share them with others, and the app works really well with large print and VoiceOver. I used Quizlet frequently when I  was an IT major, as a lot of students in my class used it to study and it was helpful to find flashcard sets that had been created by other students at my university.

Another option for creating digital flashcards is through the Amazon Alexa Skill Blueprints website, which allows users to create their own custom Alexa skills with no coding required. The flashcard skill was created to help people study and master comments by voice using audio-based flashcards. Users can create multiple different topics, though they must use a different skill name for each category. I have an entire post about creating flashcards with Amazon Alexa linked below.

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Search for study materials from other colleges

Looking for study materials on a specific topic or from another college/website? There are a few different options for running custom web searches to find study materials and practice tests.

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Take regular breaks away from screens

All of these study tips for low vision students involve lots of  time spent in front of screens, and it’s important for students to remember to take regular breaks so that they don’t hurt their eyes too much or get fatigued. Some of my favorite ways to take breaks from screens involve going to get food with friends, taking short naps, going to a club/extracurricular meeting, or attending another event that encourages students to step away from  technology.

Bonus – ensure that testing accommodations are in place

It’s frustrating to spend hours or days studying only to find out that there is an issue with testing accommodations and that the exam can’t be taken as planned. Check with professors to make sure that they have sent the test over to the testing center or that the physical/digital test is in an accessible format- I typically ask professors to post a sample test ahead of time so I can ensure that I’ll be able to use my assistive technology with a given test, or give them a document that explains my accessibility preferences such as preferred font size.

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Summary of the best study tips for low vision students

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated September 2023; original post published April 2017.

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