How to master learning with mind maps

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Flashcards may help you memorise short facts in a flash. But for more complex subjects, you'll need a study method that can help you understand, summarise and memorise loads of information effectively and without wasting any precious study time.

Mind maps can do just that.

What are mind maps?

A mind map is a diagram that organises facts and ideas around one, central subject. It combines words, pictures and lots of colours to summarise complex information in a visual way.

The term "mind map" was invented in the 1970s by educational expert Tony Buzan, but people have actually been using them for centuries. Even Leonardo da Vinci is said to have used mind maps!

This short video will show you how it works:

How can mind maps help me in school?

You can use mind maps to:

  • Study complex topics and essay-type questions;
  • Brainstorm for a class presentation or project;
  • Organise your research for a project or essay;
  • Get to grips with a complex topic;
  • Summarise a book or a poem; or
  • Memorise lists of foreign language vocabulary grouped in themes. (This video shows you how to use mind maps to learn foreign languages.)

They can be just as useful outside of school: they can help you plan your future career, choose the right university or weigh-up your options for a gap year.

Why do they work?

They mimic the way the brain works:

According to Tony Buzan, mind maps mimic the way your brain organises and stores new information.

Our brains don't think in bulleted lists, so a mind map is more effective than traditional notes for grouping together information and creating links between ideas.

Mind maps activate many different parts of your brain, which leads to a deeper understanding and better memorisation of the work.

When you make a mind map, you have to use the creative side as well as the analytical side.

You also trigger the brain's sense for words, images, numbers, logic, rhythm, colour and spatial awareness - all at the same time!

They use the Picture Superiority Effect

The combination of words and pictures make it easier to memorise work than just words alone. This is called the Picture Superiority Effect.

They can make studying fun

Even if your pictures aren't perfect, the fact that you use images and different colours can make studying more fun.

In fact, the weirder and more exaggerated your pictures are, the better your brain will remember them - so it doesn't matter at all if you're an artist.

They save time

It may seem like making mind maps waste a lot of study time. But the opposite is true. As you make your map, you are already analysing and categorising information.

You are not just repeating sentences like a parrot, but you're really getting to grips with the topic.

Then, once your mind map is done, you don't have to go through pages and pages of notes. Instead, you can see the entire topic, in its proper context, on one page.

Watch Tony Buzan talk about mind maps and why they work:

However, there is a condition. Research shows that, for mind maps to work effectively, you have to be motivated to use them. They won't help you much if you don't want to use them.

Knowing how to make a good mind map, and realising how easy it can be, may make all the difference.

Tips for making a good mind map:

  • Use a blank piece of paper and turn it sideways.

  • Start in the middle of the page and use a picture for your central idea.

  • Use many different colours. Not only are colours more engaging, but they help you categorise information. Colours can also help your memory: remember that a certain fact was underlined in green may help you remember the fact itself.

  • Make sure your branches connect and don't just hang in mid-air. This helps you to remember the connections between facts better.

  • Use curved instead of straight lines. Your brain finds this more interesting.

  • According to Buzan, you should use only one key word per line. Other people do use phrases, but keep them very short.

  • Use pictures throughout. This is a great way to summarise and memorise ideas. As Buzan says: if one image is worth a thousand words, then ten images on your mind map must be worth 10 000 words!

  • When you do use words, use clear, easy-to-read block letters.

  • Use paper and coloured pens instead of computers or tablet apps. There are fantastic mind mapping software that can help you when it comes to sorting research or brainstorming. But if you want to memorise work, it's far more effective to draw and write by hand. Paper and pen also have far fewer distractions than electronic devices.

  • Make your own mind maps. Don't borrow a friend's, and don't download it from the Internet. This is important, not only because the process of making the mind map helps you to memorise, but also because every person's brain is unique. A mind map should mimic the way your own brain organises information, not somebody else's.


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