Mind maps are probably one of the most confused note-taking topic out there. Mostly because, as I once did, people mistake other forms of graphic note-taking to be mind maps. Concept maps are the closest stylistically, but lack many of the memory-inducing color schemes, imagery, and/or textual relationships of topics. In fact, Mind Maps for Medical Students and Mind Maps in Pathology make this fatal error. However, Mind Maps for Medical Finals appears to have the proper tactics down.
Mind maps were created by memory champion Tony Buzan. Even he will state that “created” is a strong term. He researched study-skills, history, and psychology to put together the best conglomeration of tactics to make a simple and effective memory device. He created the 7 steps (“7 laws”) of Mind Maps, which can be found here.
One difficulty I had when first starting off was my reluctance to tackle important material. I didn’t want to mess up, or have to remake it again later on. MAKE MISTAKES! It’s perfectly acceptable to redo a particular map/subject, maybe in a completely different way than it was initially done. However, if you are like me and sometimes have difficulty with mental blocks, begin with something that is less anxiety-provoking. Make maps of your weekly to-do list, a recent TV episode you watched, or a book you just finished (perhaps even a mind map of a book on mind maps; I recommend Tony Buzan’s Mind Map Mastery).
Despite the resources given, using other’s memory devices will almost NEVER be as strong as making your own. Every memory champion book I’ve read so far, or podcast/YouTube interview I’ve seen, the champions always recommend making your own mnemonic devices. From mind maps to memory palaces, putting in the extra work now will likely show in spades later. Just remember to PRACTICE!
Not artistic? Me neither! My much-used phrase when asked about artistic skill was that I “couldn’t draw a straight line to save my life!” Even if you don’t have great drawing skills, I still recommend hand-drawing your mind maps. These seem to stick in my memory better, and I’ve heard the same anecdotes from others. Plus, no one has to ever see them if you don’t wish to share.
However, if you simply refuse to go analog, there’s always digital. iMindMap is the software created by Tony Buzan, so it is stated to follow the 7 laws the best. But if you are looking for free software, there are many options. Without having a lot of personal experience, and with how frequently new ones seem to be coming out, I can’t make a proper recommendation one way of the other.
Get started today. I didn’t know these techniques during my schooling, and only began to study this and other mnemonic devices seriously towards the end of fourth year. I’m really kicking myself for that mistake. Getting started can be a quick, cheap, and painless process.
I started with some markers, highlighters, and a drawing pad from the dollar-store to make sure I’d stick with it before investing too much. I don’t recommend it for obvious issues with quality: the sketchpad began falling apart within a day and several of the markers were already dry. But if you want to just test it out on the cheap, it’s not a bad way to start. Later on you will likely want quality markers with diverse colors/widths, low smell, and don’t bleed through the paper. So watch a few online videos and give it a try! It just may change your study habits for the rest of your life.