Meeting Students Where They Are: Should You Change the Format of Your Prep Materials?

By Amy Jauman EdD, SMS 

Certification organizations benefit from meeting learners where they are by providing educational materials that are clear and easy to navigate. But the task of meeting the needs of every learner can feel daunting. In 2018, I wrote Certification Success: Create your personalized study plan, hoping educators in certifying agencies as well as exam candidates would read it and understand how the Theory of Multiple Intelligences can help every learner successfully prepare for their exam. 

The idea was to encourage learners who found themselves trying to prepare for an exam with resources that just didn’t seem to work for them to modify the materials to meet their needs – like sketching the content from a textbook or exercising while listening to a webinar, if that’s what supported their learning. Certification agencies benefit from understanding this theory because it allows them to create more effective exam prep materials in a variety of formats, targeting the variety of ways their specific audience likes to learn. The better a candidate’s prep experience is, the more likely they are to test and do well. In this article, we’ll explore the Theory of Multiple Intelligences and how it can help educators and individuals prepping to take exams. 

What Are the 9 Intelligences? 

Howard Gardner is well-known in the education community for providing educators, parents and even adult learners with the opportunity to describe how individuals process information. Different from a learning style, Gardner defines an intelligence as, “the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings.” His theory embraces the fact that we all approach life and learning with our own unique skills. 


The following are the nine intelligences identified by Gardner. Whether you are an individual prepping for an exam or an educator who works in a certification agency, considering each of these intelligences can help identify new approaches to learning exam content that will increase retention and overall make for a more positive experience for the candidate. 

1. Existential: The “big picture” matters. These learners need to understand the “why” behind what they are doing and learning.
2. Interpersonal: They are “good with people” in almost any situation. When learning, they like to be engaging with others.
3. Intrapersonal: They know their strengths and opportunities. These are the individuals that will make good choices about trying different approaches (and are also typically very self-motivated).
4. Kinesthetic: They like to move when they learn, but they are also very good at learning physical tasks quickly and easily. They typically have superior hand-eye coordination.
5. Linguistic: Reading and writing has probably always come easily and with enjoyment for them. As a result, they likely had very positive experiences in a traditional school setting.
6. Logical-Mathematical: Mathematics, reasoning and deduction are their preferred approaches. They tend to use strategies and experiments whenever possible.
7. Musical: They have a natural talent for identifying tone and creating music. Listening to music or using melodies also helps them learn.
8. Naturalist: Sorting and categorizing living things is an interest and talent. Historically, it was a handy skill for hunters and gatherers, but today these learners tend to gravitate toward roles where discerning between different pieces of information and grouping is helpful.
9. Spatial: Having a strong understanding of relationships between objects. Visual work and estimations of size and distance come easily. 

With each of these intelligences are several preferred ways of learning. A linguistic learner, for example, will excel if your agency provides a book and worksheets for exam prep. But what if you have musical and kinesthetic intelligences? Will they be able to be successful with the materials you provide? 

For each intelligence, there are ways that materials can be modified to provide a more positive learning experience. For example, to meet the needs of the musical intelligence, students are encouraged to create short songs to remember lists. Kinesthetic learners are encouraged to listen to eBooks while they exercise — or at least squeeze a stress ball while they read. Most people would agree that the responsibility for learning should be on the student, but it also benefits the certifying agency to create resources that can help learners, meeting them halfway in their commitment to preparing for the exam. 

Thinking about your candidates, should you:

  • Create podcasts that discuss various elements of the exam, allowing people to consider the information in a more informal, conversational environment?
  • Provide scenarios for candidates to act out and solve, applying what they have learned?
  • Invest in providing more detail around various core learning objectives, helping candidates understand the big picture?

Changes like the ones in the previous list are often very manageable and can be the difference between candidates having a positive or frustrating experience. 

What Kind of Learners Pursue Your Certification?

It’s common for certain industries to have a high percentage of one or two intelligences. After all, what you find easy and effective to do as a learner is probably also what drives you to pursue a specific career. Authors are likely to be linguistic learners, architects probably have a high spatial intelligence and musicians probably identify with the musical intelligence. As you consider how you provide resources for your candidates, an important first question may be whether or not there is an intelligence that is more likely than the others to be present in your community. It may feel overwhelming to try to meet the needs of all nine intelligences, and it’s unlikely that you need to. 

Can Encouraging Candidates to Consider Their Environment Help Them Be Successful?

In Certification Success, readers are given the opportunity to complete an online assessment through Human eSources that provides recommendations in several important success categories. In addition to sensory and mindset consideration, they’re also given recommendations based on how they answer a series of questions for environmental considerations, listed below

  • Food intake: Does eating while you study help you stay focused or act as a distraction?
  • Lighting: Do you prefer to work in low, calming light or bright lights?
  • Setting – casual or traditional: Would you be more focused with your feet up in a recliner or sitting in an office chair?
  • Time of day: Are you more easily able to learn in the morning, mid-day, or at night?
  • Background noise: Does a perfectly quiet room distract you or do you prefer to work in silence?
  • Temperature: Would you rather be a little warm or a little cool to keep your engagement high?
  • Movement: Is it important for you to move around while you study, or do you need to be still? 

Can these choices really make a difference? Consider the candidate prepping for their exam every day over their lunch break at work. They sit in an uncomfortable folding chair in the corner of a busy lunchroom, afraid to move for fear of giving up their spot. If that individual prefers not to eat when studying, a quiet environment and movement, the deck is stacked against them. And yet, if they haven’t thought about how their environment may influence their success, this approach may seem like the most efficient option. Understanding their environmental preferences may help them choose to instead get up an hour earlier every day and study at home before heading into work. 

Bringing It All Together

Certification agencies interested in meeting candidates where they are and providing guidance and ideas for how they can be successful can best support success by encouraging their community to embrace the following additions to their exam prep process. 

  1. Determine how you process information. Exploring more than your learning style, think about past successful learning experiences and consider why they were so positive.
  2. Consider the many components of your environment and make changes that will support your success.

It’s understandable that candidates accept the prep materials created by agencies as the best approach to exam preparation. But certification agencies can increase each candidates’ chances of success by taking it one step further and recommending candidates manage their resources and environment to meet their own unique needs.

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