There are many techniques to boost memory forming and recall; the first of these that we will look at is mind mapping. This technique is often said to have been used since as far back as the 3rd century, and it is still a widespread and effective tool.
What is a mind map?
It is a graphical way to organise ideas and concepts, showing connections in a simple and intuitive way.
As a form of creative and effective note taking it can be very helpful to understand complex ideas and visualise a topic. Mind maps work particularly well for visual learners, who may struggle with just simple written notes.
How does a mind map work?
A mind map is effective because it has the benefits of both written words and of images - as the completed mind map forms an image of the information. It engages both the left and right sides of the brain, which separately respond to structured alphanumeric and logical information in the left, and colours, images and patterns in the right. So, using a mind map you can engage the entire power of your brain.
There are four key aspects in a mind map:
- The central image: Which is the starting idea for the mind map, expressed as a few words. This could be any broad concept; for example the topic of a lecture, the ideas of a particular theorist, an entire module subject, or a specific important theory.
- Main Branches: These connections show the main themes that come out of the central image. Each branch will be a line leading to a word or phrase that represents the idea. They should not be too specific or detailed at this stage and you should try to keep them to a small number (no more than 8) to make the map effective.
- Minor Branches: These will branch out from the ideas in the main branches, and will start to add detail and complexity. More ideas may branch out from these, so you can get several levels of connections that show how everything is connected and leads back to the central image.
- Nodal Structure: When all the ideas are mapped out (each idea is called a node), you have a complete nodal structure. This shows how all nodes are linked and related. Every node needs to be connected to at least one other.
When complete the mind map acts as a picture of a topic, and lets you see how everything is linked. The most complex and detailed areas are the parts you know best, and where you have struggled to add detail you may need to do more study.
You may find that one main branch seems to be really important, or that others don't have many connections. This can help you to prioritise your revision and note making.
Top Tips for mind mapping:
- Try to think creatively, and don't overthink the ideas you are putting down. You can always change and remove parts later. It's more important to include all the ideas you have rather than spending a long time trying to carefully pick out the best.
- Use colours to help make the map more engaging. You could use the colours in a system, such as each section being in a particular colour, or strengths/support in green and weaknesses/criticisms in red. Another idea is to have main branches in one colour, then sub-branches in another colour and sub-subbranches in another colour, and so forth.
- Try making small drawings or symbols to represent the main ideas - this will keep the process interesting and ensure that the creative side of the brain remains active. It can also help with memory recall.
- Minimise the number of words you use in each idea. Too many will detract from the image-building, and make the map less effective.
- Mind mapping works best when written by hand, but make sure you have enough room on the paper for all the parts!
These colourful and detailed top-quality mind maps will help you to understand and remember more effectively than just copying out notes, leading to more effective study and revision.