Mind mapping – memory techniques

How on earth can you retain all the information that you need? The answer is simply in effective revision. One technique that has been tried and tested over many years is Mind Mapping, but what exactly is it?

The Mind Map
Mind Mapping is a memory enhancing technique, created by Tony Buzan1, in the late 1960’s to aid his own studies. It is a collection of ideas (be they images or words), which grow from a core topic, often interlinking, to form a “map” of your thoughts in a way that is easy to remember. Mind Mapping is a sort of brainstorming exercise to unleash your mental volcano.

Most people think that they have a poor memory when, in fact, the real problem lies in their ability of recall. Once you have learned the basic principles of Mind Mapping it becomes easy to adapt them to any given situation.

The Basics
The three A’s of Mind Mapping

Accept – Learn the basic techniques, set aside any fears you may have about your mental ability, and follow the Mind Mapping laws exactly.
Apply – Learning is only the first step, you must practice this technique in order to make it work for you. Practice makes perfect.
Adapt – Develop your own personal style, review and improve this regularly.

The Mind Map Laws
The word “law” may make you feel slightly uncomfortable, but it is not meant to restrict your thought pattern. The laws are to be used as a structure around which to base your ideas. Think of them as a safety net, something to fall back on when you need help. There are two areas of Mind Map law – the first showing the basic techniques and the second layout:


The more emphasis placed on a word or image, the more likely you are to remember it. Images and colours stimulate the mind and trigger associations. You should use at least three colours in your central image – colours stimulate the brain, because the last thing you want when trying to revise is for your brain to switch off! Using 3D is an easy way to make a word or image stand out and wherever possible you should use words or images, which refer to the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. These techniques will all help your recall ability. Don't be afraid to use funny images, the more bizarre and colourful the image, the easier it will be to remember!

Use arrows of different shapes and size to make connections between images and words. Choosing colours and codes to represent different meanings or topics, enhances the ability to associate and make instant connections. It also saves time.

Clarity, personal style and layout
The clearer your notes are, the easier it will be to understand and remember them. This does not mean they should be rigid, use capital letters, highlighters or whatever means necessary to help you. The laws stated above are supplemented and supported by three recommendations:

Break mental blocks – Leave space to add in extra thoughts, ask questions and add images and colour if you feel this will help.
Reinforce – Review your Mind Map and quickly check the relevance of each area – highlighting particularly significant points.
Prepare – Develop a positive mental attitude, make sure you have all the materials you need, and a comfortable work area.

Creating a Mind Map
Structuring your thoughts enables you to control and apply your mental strength. The first step is to choose your topic and draw and/or write this topic in the centre of a piece of paper. Then you must identify your Basic Ordering Ideas, or key concepts, which should be written on branches or legs of the idea. An easy way to remember this is to think of the topic as the trunk of a tree, the key concepts as the branches, and the ideas that stem from the branches as the leaves. Spend about 10 or 15 minutes creating your map, let your ideas flow freely and jot down whatever comes into your head, be it a word, picture or sign. Make sure that you mark any associations with arrows, colours or codes.

It is not just enough to know how to create a Mind Map you must practice this technique on a regular basis. Your mind is like any other muscle in your body, it needs to be exercised or it will not perform to the best it can.

Now we know the basics, how can we apply these to passing exams? The answer is “It’s easy when you know how”. Mind Maps can be used for both essay, and numerical style questions, the basics are the same for both and you can adapt them to suit your needs. Firstly, read the examination paper fully and choose the questions you wish to answer. Do not change your mind half way through the exam as this wastes valuable time and marks.

You should prepare mini Mind Maps showing any thoughts that come to mind on reading the question. You may not use these thoughts in the answer itself, but they may help trigger more memories, which in turn will help you achieve top marks! You should then decide in which order you will answer the questions, and how much time you can allow for each answer.

Create a Mind Map to act as the skeleton of your answer. NB please remember to mark your Mind Maps as notes, these alone will not gain you marks, but will show that you have thought about your answer carefully and organised your thoughts in an effective manner.

The main image should depict the question, and how you intend to introduce your answer. Each of the main branches will provide sub-headings (you should be able to write at least a few paragraphs for each branch), which will form the main body of the answer. The leaves should give strong justifications for your answer – jot down any quotes, theoretical models or examples to use as a back-up to the points you wish to make. Finally, you should write a brief conclusion, drawing on all the points you have used throughout the answer, to justify your final comments.

Mind Mapping is a highly effective technique to learn to make complex subjects become infinitely easier to understand. It is an essential tool that all students should learn, and use throughout their academic and business life. So next time you're suffering from writer’s block, or you're finding it hard to understand a new subject, take 10 minutes to create a Mind Map and open the door to your imagination.

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