Mind Mapping your way to Better Grades

If You’re already using colour and shapes in your note-taking, you may be ready for the next level: mind mapping. Mind mapping is a highly visual method of keeping notes and thoughts organized. Particularly useful for students, mind mapping techniques brings your study notes to life. Mind maps are powerful memory aids incorporating the whole-brain use of colour, symbols, and radiant thinking.

The concept of mind mapping was developed by Tony Buzan, a British author of several popular psychology books. Buzan, who also hosted the BBC show “Use Your Head,” has long been fascinated by how the mind works. He believes that traditional note-taking, which is linear and wordy, does not help the mind retain and recall information. Instead, the mind needs ideas radiating out of a central concept. Mind maps mimic the brain’s radiant thinking.

Mind mapping has many adherents today. There are several computer programs available for electronic mind mapping. Tony Buzan markets his own iMindMap, and there are a few, such as Wisemapping and Freeplane, available online for free. AUSU members can also create mind maps using SmartDraw, available through the AUSU website free for one year. But for the most flexibility, create your own mind maps by hand.

Begin with a large-at least 11″ x 17″?piece of unlined paper; an artist’s sketch pad works well. To create your mind map, you’ll need lots of colour: fine- and medium-tip markers, pencil crayons, and a pen. You don’t need any artistic talent but a little imagination helps. Now You’re ready to begin.

Start with a central idea.
Depending on your mind map, your central idea could be the subject of a lecture, a chapter title from your textbook, or a major concept You’re trying to grasp. With your paper in landscape mode (long sides on top and bottom) place your central idea in the middle of the page. If you can, make your central idea a picture or a symbol. Add words if you need to, but make sure to use at least three colours for your central idea.

Radiate out from the centre.
Break your central idea into themes (five is a good number to work with.) Beginning in the top right section of your page, draw a fluid branch out from the central idea. Make the branch thick at its base and tapered toward the end. Label the branch in big letters with its theme. Continue adding branches for each of your themes, radiating each from the central idea.

Build the themes.
From the end of each theme branch, break out increasingly smaller branches for concepts relating to the theme. Group the concepts together meaningfully, much as you would in traditional note-taking. Use different colours for each group.

Exercise your imagination.
You can use words to label your concept branches (single words work best,) but if you can think of a symbol to use instead, you’ll end up with a powerful memory aid. Not only does a symbol represent more than one word, but the visual aspect of it will aid in later recall. Do not worry about your artistic ability. The mind map is only for you so nobody but you will be interpreting your drawings. Your drawing ability will improve with practice.

Your finished mind map will make a visually appealing and useful aid for studying. First of all, just creating the mind map cements the information it contains in your mind. By using your imagination to come up with symbols, you bring the concepts vividly to life. Secondly, by reviewing your mind map periodically (and adding to it if need be,) the powerful visual combination of colour, words, and symbols are easier to recall than plain black text. You may find that you can actually “see” details of your mind map just by thinking about it.

Creating a mind map requires a small time investment but has a big payout on exam day. Depending on the level of detail, a mind map can take as little as 30 minutes to create. Once you’ve completed a mind map, post it nearby where you can glance at it often as you continue your studies. Add more symbols or other detail if they come to mind later. If you create mind maps throughout a course, you’ll have a series of maps to aid in your exam preparation. Students who routinely use mind maps as a study tool often find they need no other notes.

For detailed instructions on how to mind map, see Tony Buzan’s website or look for his books on mind mapping. While You’re at http://www.thinkbuzan.com, check out the gallery of mind maps created by students from all over the world.

Your mind is all ready to map. It’s just waiting for you to find your way.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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