Mind maps are a studying classic. Chances are you’ve tried using them at least once or twice. or perhaps you’ve never tried them at all! No matter you’re experience level, here’s why they’re great + How to use them.

First things first, what are mind maps?

Mind maps are basically a visual representation of how a topic can be broken down. The main topic is in the very middle, surrounded by the smaller topics that make it up. HISTORY in the center, for example, might have ANCIENT, MODERN and MEDIEVAL surrounding it. These sub-topics will then be broken down again and again. The different items are usually connected by branches or arrows.

Different types of mind maps

There are different suggested techniques for making mind maps. Some experts suggest that everything should be written along the branches, rather than in little bubbles. This restricts how much can be written and makes the brain ‘flow’ better through the mind map.

Other people prefer to use mind maps to show how ideas are connected, rather than to break down topics. The arrows used in mind maps are great to represent complex concepts made up of lots of different ideas.

How to make mind maps

Making basic mind maps is incredibly easy. Just get a piece of paper and write the topic heading in the middle. Now draw three or four lines branching out. At the end of each line, write a sub-topic. Now repeat this process for each individual sub-topic. You’ve got a basic mind map!

Apps for making mind maps.

If you prefer to work digitally, it is still possible to use mind maps. There are a ton of applications and programs available – perhaps start with One Note or XMind. This shows just how fantastically flexible and adaptable mind maps are.

Why are mind maps great?

So, now you know what mind maps are, why should you be using them?

for compressing information

When you have a lot of information to learn – an entire textbook, for example, it’s impossible to memorize everything. You might find yourself reading and rereading with little effect, or getting too hung up on trying to memorize specific sentences. Mind maps force you to really compress the information down to the most basic essentials.

Visual learning

If you are a visual learner, seeing information presented in interesting ways is probably essential to you. Mind maps each have their own distinctive shape and appearance which can help information to sink into your memory more effectively.

Using color

The flexibility of mind maps makes them a great way to introduce a little color into your study routine. Many visual learners find color very helpful. Try using a different color for each sub-topic, or perhaps pick out key dates and facts using different colors.

Being Creative

Whether hand-drawn or digital, mind maps offer incredible scope for flexibility and creativity. Add in illustrations, mathematical formulae, diagrams, or anything else that helps you. Digital versions can be packed full of links to online resources. Using links rather than a series of text notes also encourages you to think more creatively, which is why mind maps are so popular for brainstorming new ideas.

‘Chunking’ information

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to remember multiple things at once? This is because our working memory only has a few available slots for storing information. The best way to get around this limitation is to group information into ‘chunks’ so that one memory slot can store a variety of related ideas. Visually grouping items on a mind map helps your brain to associate them with each other, leaving you with more memory space for other ideas!

Mind maps can be fun!
If you’ve been making notes and reading textbooks for hours, mind maps can be a welcome break. They tap into the creative, relaxed mode of thinking rather than the focused mode of thinking. Why not refresh your mind while still learning? A lot of people also enjoy the chance to produce something more personalized and visually attractive.


How I use mind maps

I tend to use mind maps in stages when I’m studying. I’ll start off by making a series of mind maps, covering as much information as possible. This might mean having three or four sheets of paper for a single topic. Then, a few days later, I’ll go through these mind maps and make a second, more compressed set, shrinking it down to one or two pages. Finally, if I have time, I’ll make a final mind map, cramming the entire topic onto a page or less. By this point, I should know the material thoroughly enough that just a single word on the mind map will remind me of an entire chunk of material. Unlike just re-reading notes, using mind maps ensures that I actually understand the information.

I do try to include all key points and dates on this final mind map (I have terrible trouble remembering dates – not great for a historian!). I then refer back to it regularly in the final 24 hours before exams, as my final note summary. It’s really useful to have something simple and easy to understand – but with a wealth of information underlying it.

I also use mind maps for coming up with ideas. They are invaluable for thinking through a topic before you start writing an essay. I have frequently used mind maps in exams to help me plan what information should go into the beginning, middle and end of an essay, and to break down the individual points for the essay’s main body. Mind maps are really fast and easy to produce in an exam, but still help to focus and rearrange your thoughts. Give it a go!

In a less high-pressured setting, mind maps are a great way to explore ideas – perhaps if you have to pick a topic for a paper. I’ve sometimes also used them for high-speed note taking, rather than trying to use complete sentences in a coherent order. If you have a lecturer who speaks way too quickly, you may want to try mind maps.

Do you enjoy using mind maps? What are your top tips for making mind maps? Let us know in the comments below!

Meet The Guest Blogger, ISOBEL ROBERTSON:

“As if two history degrees weren’t enough, I am currently starting a PhD in medieval history. I love learning, and want to share all the tips and tricks I’ve picked up after years in college. Visit my blog at perspeculor.com for advice on studying, time management, fashion, cooking, and anything else that I think fellow students might find useful.”

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