How to mind map for legal tests and exams

A few months ago I finished my double degree in Law and Psychology (with First Class Honours). Don’t think for a second that it was easy for me to do. It took me eight years and every assignment/exam was a hard slog. Every step of the way was a challenge.

When I received my graduation certificate I thought to myself:

“How did I do it? What helped me get through the past eight years of study?”

One thing automatically sprung to my mind . . .

Mind maps.

Anything that I had to learn at university, I created a mind map. Why? Because rote learning no longer worked at Law school. For my legal units I had to really understand the information. Mind mapping it all out allowed me to do this.

Interestingly, a few weeks ago someone sent me this question:

“I know the mind maps with a main idea on each branch can give a great review of the most essential ideas but the point is that law is full of data, definitions and I’m not sure how to present them . . . so could you share with us some of your legal masterpieces?”

I would hardly call my mind maps ‘legal masterpieces’ but I’m happy to share them with everyone if it will help to break the illusion that legal mind maps need to be works of art or look a certain way.

Unlike my legal mind maps, the mind maps on this site contain very few words. In a perfect world, this is how all mind maps would be. Tony Buzan states in his book How to Mind Map:

“Use one key word per line. Why? Because single key words give your mind map more power and flexibility. Each single word or image is like a multiplier, generating its own special array of associations and connections . . . Phrases or sentences dampen this triggering effect.”

In theory, I really like this idea. But when it comes to the reality of studying several subjects at university and having a heavy workload, I just don’t think many of us would feel totally confident creating mind maps with only one keyword word per line. For myself, I fear when it comes time to revise, there may not be much triggering action occurring (and instead just a whole heap of confusion and stress!).

How to mind map legal subjects

Let me show you one of the mind maps I did for my favourite legal unit, International Environmental Law . . .

You’ll notice I haven’t stuck strictly to Tony Buzan’s advice of writing one key word per line.

I believe that for subjects that require you to learn large amounts of complex information in a short space of time you want to put down important points of law (in more than one word) and perhaps even write whole definitions.

If you feel the need to write out a definition on your mind map, make sure that you break it down into pictures (the more personalised, humorous and exaggerated the better).

Create a simplified, overarching mind map of your mind maps

Once you’ve completed your detailed mind maps for a subject (and you may have dozens), it’s a good idea to create an overarching mind map that contains significantly less text. You want to do this on one big piece of A3 paper to bring together all the information, see connections between ideas and clarify things for yourself.

Mind mapping legislation

Mind maps will be your savior when it comes to understanding confusing and/or complex legislation. Often statutory laws are worded in convoluted ways and have a lot of exceptions. In order to fully understand these laws, I found I had to break down each law into different parts using pictures and different coloured pens.

For example, section 48(1) of the Sale of Goods Act 1895 states:

48 Action for price
(1) Where, under a contract of sale, the property in the goods has passed to the buyer, and the buyer wrongfully neglects or refuses to pay for the goods according to the terms of the contract, the seller may maintain an action against him for the price of the goods.

This is how I broke down section 48(1) using pictures and different coloured pens:

Breaking down tough assignments

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by hypothetical legal problems that our lecturers throw at us. In order to decrease my stress levels and get clear on the facts of the scenario, I would always mind map out assignment questions.

Not sure how to mind map?

If you are new to mind mapping and not so sure how to go about creating mind maps, I recommend that you check out my free Mind Mapper’s Toolkit. You can download a copy here.

To sum up

Mind maps are a great tool to help you through law school or any complex subject area. When you first start mind mapping, don’t expect to be great at it. Like anything, it takes practice.

Finally, please don’t put too much pressure on yourself to create beautiful works of art. Messy mind maps are better than no mind maps if they help you understand your subject area.

10 thoughts on “How to mind map for legal tests and exams

  1. great information, and attractive bits of art too! thank you. may I ask how many variations and iterations you did before arriving at these well laid out and coloured maps? my attempts always run out of space/off the page or get totally cramped and messy! actually spacing and laying out is part of the thinking, but is quite an investment especially if you are doing it for every aspect of a course.

    1. Hi Jane

      Thanks for your feedback 🙂

      In answer to your question, early on in my studies I would often do several mind maps before arriving at laid out mind maps that I was happy with. But after years of practice, I find I don’t need to do that anymore unless I am creating a professional mind map for an organisation (rather than just for my studies).

      Running off the page can be a problem. Again, I think it just takes practice. Perhaps you could try using A3 paper instead of A4. For my honours project I used a massive sheet of paper (A0) to create a mind map to get my head around my project (trust me, I needed lots of space and freedom to clarify my thoughts!).

      In terms of your mind maps being messy, I think that’s ok. As long as you can understand what is going on in them, that’s all that matters. All that being said, if you want to be able to refer back to your mind maps it does help if you try to make them relatively neat. I find that I can be a bit psychologically repelled by my mind maps that lack colour and have been slapped out without much care.

      Hope this helps!

  2. HiJane
    Thanks very much for the mindmap on section 48. I found mindmapping years ago however I have not been able to get fully into because I could not see how to go from an academic page to a mindmap. Mindmapping my thoughts and goals etc was straight forward but going from a book was proving challenging AND I never could find a source to fully help. Until now! Thanks for your time. The books I have found do not take that first step of showing you a page of theory and then putting it into a mindmap. Perhaps it might seem a bit spoonfed but the one word never worked so now I can see better how to do it. Thanks again. Ann

  3. Hey!
    Thanks for the tips, I’ve been trying to find better ways to retain the info needed in exams, as I have my first uni ones coming up. Didn’t do great in my mid-semester tests, although I studied my butt off! Will definitely be giving mind mapping a go, your images were very simple but great. It’s so true that many people remember things better via images, I know I certainly do. Thanks, much appreciated 🙂 Hayley

  4. Brilliant Blawg
    I also mind map all my lectures I have LLB(Hons) in Scots Law and currently mind map my Diploma in Legal Practice.
    Really liked your blog and will send a link to it.


  5. Thanks so much for all the information!

    I’m studying law and recently decided that mind mapping would be a great and time saving method for note taking. However, I was having quite a lot of trouble trying to squeeze the large amounts of information into just one word and your website has helped tremendously 🙂

  6. i would love to see a mindmap for psychology. i am having a hard time studying for an exam in the history of psychology and its directions. i try to mindmap but i always end up with too much text.

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