As a student, how should you consume a mind map? Tear it up and cram it into your mouth like a wide-eyed lunatic? With enough ketchup, I suppose that might work.
Reading is an obvious, although not especially effective way to ingest written information, but with a diagram or a mind map our brain doesn’t have full sentences to process. We’re left staring at it like a picture in an art gallery. Or, if your artistic talent is as limited as mine, the experience is more like staring at a child’s drawing on a fridge door, and even that isn’t a particularly favourable comparison. At least those pictures have glitter and macaroni.
From a studying perspective, most of the memory ‘juice’ comes from drawing the mind map, not viewing the finished work. This is where the process shines. It forces us to think through the relationships within a subject, organise and classify the information, without needing to spend hours writing out longhand notes.
Most of the memory ‘juice’ comes from drawing the mind map, not viewing the finished work.
Adding pictures and colour helps make these diagrams more memorable, but that doesn’t automatically allow us to remember it. One of my highlights of last year was getting to see The Starry Night by Van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I looked at it for a number of minutes, stunned by how incredible it looks in real life, before reluctantly moving along. I’ll never forget it, but I can’t recall it in detail either.
The most straightforward way to improve our recall is to test ourselves, however, this is a little trickier than normal when it comes to mind maps. With most diagrams, it’s easy to conceal specific elements with mini post-it notes, swapping them around each study session to hide different things. Mind maps are unusual. They have tightly packed information and words that curve around branches.
My solution is to put the mind map into a clear plastic punch pocket. You’ll undoubtedly have seen these before; they are for protecting documents in ring binders. Once I’ve slipped my drawing into the pocket, I use a black marker pen on the plastic to scribble over the words I want to hide. Now I can test myself and see the answer just by sliding out the paper.
To change the hidden words, I can flip the pocket over and use the other side of the plastic, or I can clean off the marker pen and start over. I’ve found that both window cleaning wipes and make-up removal wipes work do a good job at removing the ink.
It’s easy, effective and pleasingly low-tech.
If you’re looking for information on how to mind map, Tony Buzan is the inventor of mind mapping and you can find instructions on his website here.