Update (February 2018): Since writing this post, I have completed degrees in law and psychology and a PhD with the help of mind maps. I could not have got through my studies without this wonderful strategy. I have created a free Mind Mapper’s Toolkit to help students achieve study success. You can get a copy here.
How would you feel if you got 1 out of 20 (5%) for a test or exam? Upset? Angry? Disappointed? This happened to me 6 years ago for my first open book test for law at university. Still to this day I can remember the awkward feeling of taking the test, flipping through my books wildly trying to find answers to the questions in front of me and having no idea what I was doing.
I knew that I didn’t get 5% because I was stupid. Walking out of that test I knew what was missing was an effective way to study. You see, I had managed to get good marks in high school by rote learning (spending hours and hours reading my text books and notes, and being able to repeat it like a parrot). But I never really understood what I was learning, which could explain why I didn’t really enjoy my subjects and graduating from high school was such a relief!
All of that changed when I learnt how to mind map.
For my next test for law (they gave me a second chance), all that I brought in with me was a bunch of simple mind maps. I remember feeling confident and in control doing that test. I got my test paper back and my score had jumped from 1 out of 20 to 15 out of 20. I’m now in my final semester of law, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for my mind maps.
Why do mind maps work so well as a study tool? They engage you in whole brain thinking and allow you to see the big picture (how all the different ideas are to connected to one another). I find that they also help me to clarify my thoughts, simplify complex ideas, memorise information and allow me to be creative so I don’t get as bored as easily.
How can you mind map? Below is a step by step process on how you can create a mindmap. The example used is preparing an event (i.e. school ball), but you could mindmap anything else (e.g. subjects).
Step 1: Grab some coloured pens/pencils, a blank piece of paper and turn it sideways. In the centre of the page draw the first image that comes to mind on the topic you are mindmapping. Label the image.
Step 2: Branch off from your central image and create one of your main ideas (think of each branch as being like a chapter in a book). Label the branch. You can also draw a picture for it.
Step 3: From your main branches draw some sub-branches and from those sub-branches you can draw even more branches. What you are beginning to do is create associations between ideas.
Step 4: Draw pictures for each branch or for as many branches as possible. Make each picture as absurd, funny and/or exaggerated as possible. The reason for this is that we think in pictures and remember vivid, exaggerated images more easily.
Step 5: Draw another main branch but this time use a different colour. Colour helps to seperate out different ideas and keeps your mind stimulated). Draw sub-branches and pictures. If you get bored at any stage, move on and create another branch.
Stage 6: Keep repeating the above process (different colours, main branch, sub-branches and absurd pictures). Make sure each branch is curved and not a straight line. The brain is more stimulated by curved lines.
Step 7: Voila! You have created a mind map. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a work of art. Allow yourself to be as messy and creative as you like. It doesn’t matter if other people can’t understand your mind map. You just need to be able to.
If you’d like to see how mind maps have been used to simplify complex topics such as global warming, click here.
Want to learn some more tips and tricks on how to create awesome mind maps? Download a free copy of The Mind Mapper’s toolkit.