Mind Mapping – Tony Buzan, Learning leader

MM-How-to-MindMap-imindmap-1024x647

It was with some sadness that I read of the death of Tony Buzan last week. It’s possible you have never heard of him and yet will be familiar with the technique he discovered to help students learn, Mind Mapping. He was born in the UK in 1942 studied Psychology, English, Mathematics and Science at the University of British Columbia.  In addition to his lifelong association with Mind Mapping he worked for Mensa, set up the World Memory Championships in 1991 with Raymond Keene, and found time to write over 140 books. Two of which sit on my bookshelf, both furthered my knowledge and fuelled my interest in learning, memory and how the brain works. These are Use your Head and The Mind Map book.

Curiosity  

When Tony Buzan was at Junior school his curiosity was sparked by a boy who had an excellent knowledge of nature, in particular birds but repeatedly failed tests that were set in school. This led him to question what intelligence was. And although I hadn’t read this at the time it was something I had also been interested in. Society had/has somehow lost sight of the fact that people are different, falling into the trap of praising and promoting those that were “clever” and pitying those that were not. It seemed far more sensible to break intelligence down into a series of biological/neurological qualities, and in 1983, when Howard Gardner published his book on Multiple Intelligence Theory this made perfect sense to me and provided evidence that Buzan was on to something.

Mind Mapping – does it work?

According to Tony Buzan, “Mind Mapping is a two-dimensional note-taking technique with which a Mind Map is made using all the relevant knowledge about a specific subject.”

I have written about how to Mind Map before, so please follow the links if you want to find out more – Mind Mapping unplugged – The De Vinci code – Mind Mapping to pass exams.

Remarkably there is little evidence to prove that Mind Mapping works, academics have focused instead on Concept Mapping, a hierarchical diagram that links conceptual knowledge, but the principles that underpin Mind Mapping are consistent with much of what we know is effective in learning.

This quote from Tony Buzan offers a deeper insight into why it works.

“I used to take formal notes in lines of blue, and underline the key words in red, and I realised I needed only the key words and the idea. Then to bring in connections, I drew arrows and put in images and codes. It was a picture outside my head of what was inside my head – ‘Mind Map’ is the language my brain spoke.”

In this narrative there are three important principles identified. Firstly, use only key words, this process of reduction is hugely valuable in learning. When the brain has to select one or two words it engages in a process of reflection and review, reading and re-reading asking which one word should I pick, and why. Secondly connections, it is well accepted that the brain finds storing unrelated chunks of information difficult, a Mind Map requires the student to link information and in so doing forces a connection. And lastly, arguably one of the most powerful, the use of images. The brain appears to have a limitless capacity to store pictures, the brighter, more colourful and stranger the better.

In summary, it’s not that Mind Mapping was invented by Tony Buzan and before we knew little about the best techniques to aid learning, what he did was pull together much of what we now know to be effective using as inspiration the drawings of the Leonardo de Vinci and created a tool that requires the student to know little of the theory behind how it works but by preparing one engages them in a series of very effective techniques that will help them learn.

Critics

It would be wrong to suggest that everything Tony Buzan said or did was correct, he has been responsible for promoting what many now recognise as pop psychology that has since been proved to be incorrect. For example

“Did you know that you use less than 1% of your brain? The good news is that Mind Mapping can help you to access the other 99%.”

However, he also said

“Learning how to learn is life’s most important skill.”

And in this world rich with information, AI and robotics, this may be the only thing that will keep us ahead of the game.

Listen to Tony Buzan talking about Mind Maps

RIP Tony Buzan learning leader.

 

 

 

 

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Twas the night before ………..the exam – but what to do?

keep-calm-and-study-all-night-5 Well not exactly all night

For students May and June are the main exam months. Studying and learning can be enjoyable…. honestly, but the fun has to come to an end and it does, with the exam. It cannot be avoided and so is best embraced, treat the exam as a game and you the player. What you need to do is give yourself the very best chance of winning.

Become a professional exam taker, someone who follows a process of preparation, very much like a top sportsperson. This means you personally need to be in the best physical and mental shape and have a series of exercises that will get you match fit.

Below is your training regime from the night before the exam – good luck

The night before

You should by now have:

  • Read through and reduce your class/tuition notes down to approximately 10 pages (20 max) of revision notes, see March Blog on how to prepare notes. You may have some professionally produced revision notes, but it is still best to make your own.
  • Practiced past questions on the key examinable areas both under exam and non exam conditions.
  • Started the process of memorising the revision notes.

Be realistic – The key to the night before the exam is to be realistic. You don’t have much time, so don’t think you can cover everything. Let’s assume you have 3/4 hours, 6.00pm – 10.00pm maybe.

Put to one side the large folder that contains all your notes taken throughout the term/year, and concentrate only on the 10-20 page revision notes.

Focus and memorise – In the 3/4 hours that you have you want to get an overview of the subject and focus on the areas that need memorising. These should be the key examinable areas and are most likely to be standard formats, definitions, lists, formulas s not given in the exam etc.  Memorising should include some rewriting of notes, but very little, focus on talking out loud, drawing pictures, writing out mnemonics etc. See my blogs on memory, in particular: Thanks for the memories  and To pass an exam do and exam.

Admin – make sure you have set to one side everything you will need the next day. This includes your exam entry documents, calculator, gum, mints etc. You don’t want to be thinking of these in the morning. And of course make sure you know exactly what time you need to leave to get to the exam with about 1 hour to spare.

Physical and mental preparation – Drink lots of water, avoid tea, coffee etc as you will need to get a good night’s sleep. Exercise is an incredibly effective method of reducing tension and stress. So you may want to build into your 4 hours, 30 minutes for a run or brisk walk. This could be at the half way point of your evening, combining a well earned break with the exercise maximises your time.

Getting sleep is important, so avoid reading your notes and then going straight to sleep. Pack you notes away, put them ready for the morning, then physically go into another room if possible or even outside, watch TV for 10 minutes, something trivial or read a book. You need to break the state of mind from that of studying, relaxation leads to sleep not stress.

And finally keep a positive attitude, think about what you know and are good at and not what you don’t know and are bad at. Keep telling yourself that you have done everything possible, and if you follow these steps you will have. Thinking you know nothing and should have done more will not help at this stage, it’s a pointless thought strategy and not what the professional exam taker does.

The morning before

Set your alarm sufficiently early to give you at least another hour of revision. You don’t need to get out of bed, just continue memorising your notes. This is now about little and often, short 10 minute intervals. Don’t worry about falling to sleep in the exam; the adrenalin won’t let you.

1 hour before

What you do after arriving at the exam centre/School etc  is personal. Some will prefer to sit on their own going over the revision notes; don’t bother taking your folder of course notes. This is still very much about short term memory. Others will prefer to talk, chatting about nothing, just to stop them worrying. Both are fine.

After the examExam post it!

Afterwards is also a little personal, most will go home, but some will want to talk through what was in the exam, looking perhaps for some conformation they have not made a complete mess of it. Most importantly, if you have another exam, go home, put your old revision notes to one side, forget everything and start on your next subject.

The American basket ball player Art Williams had a good saying that I will leave you with. I’m not telling you it is going to be easy — I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it”

And although personally I found exams difficult I have never regretted the hard work, it was for me worth it.

And something to watch

How to: Cram the night before a test and PASS

Or you could try this

This blog is for Beth – good luck xx

Chunking

Whenever I deliver an exam technique or memory course I always come away feeling I have learned something, although I do of course hope it was not just me!

Last week was no exception; it was the memory technique course. Now I have written in the past about memory techniques, but last week one specific topic stood out, chunking.

One of the problems with learning any subject is that often you are faced with such large volumes of information it seems impossible to learn. This is not dissimilar to the position that memory champions find themselves, for example one of the tasks they have to undertake is to memorise a pack of cards.

How long would it take you, 30 minutes, 2 hours, maybe it’s not possible?

Well it is possible and you can do it in 24.97 seconds, don’t believe me, then watch this video.

So how is it done?

Well the first thing to say is it takes practice; secondly it uses some of the principles of memory, chunking, visualisation, and association. You break the task down into a series of smaller tasks, e.g. remember each separate card (chunking) then create a unique image of each card and finally put the events into a structure you are already familiar with, let’s say your journey to work (association).

Listen Professor Winston and Andi Bell world memory champion in 2002 explain more.

Chunking in a bit more detail

I have promoted the benefits of visulisation in previous blogs so let’s focus on chunking.

Look at these letters for 30 seconds

BAADHLWWFCBBACCA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

Now look at these letters

ACCA CBB WWF DHL BAA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

You should find that you did better at the second list, one because some of them are already familiar to you BAA – British Airways, but most importantly because they were broken down into smaller chunks.

It works for study as well

Chunking is not only a useful memory technique but a great way to study. When faced with a new subject, start by breaking it down into smaller chunks then priorities those chunks as to which is the most important. This would normally be the most examinable. You then focus on that chunk, don’t worry about all the other topics; just concentrate on that one, and when you have done that move onto the next etc.

And finally

The guy that broke the world record is Ben Pridmore from Derby in the UK

The De Vinci code – Mind Mapping to pass exams

Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first people to link words and pictures, using their combination to help with both learning and creativity. It also left behind a permanent record of what he had been thinking that could be used as a reminder for him and others, a set of notes!

Leonardo died in 1519 and it was not until the late 1960’s when Tony Buzan refined the technique and gave it a name “Mind Mapping. “

What is a mind Map?

According to Tony Buzan, mind maps are an expression of radiant thinking and a natural function of the human mind, a powerful graphical technique which provides a universal key to unlocking the potential of the brain. A nice description but I am not sure I understand what they are just from that.

In the context of making notes, I would define a mind map as a way of recording key words that, unlike linear notes, start with a central theme that is often an image, and have content that radiates out from this central theme like branches from a tree. They should be colourful and the note maker should use their imagination in drawing the map, bringing in images and showing connections in any way they wish.

How to draw a mind map

There are and should be few rules to mind mapping as the individual should bring as much of him or herself to the process as possible. But there are some guidelines.

1. In the centre of your paper, draw a square, a circle, or an image that will help you focus on the core issue of the mind map. Inside it, write the name of the subject or topic you are studying. It is probably best to have the paper in landscape rather than portrait.

2. What are the main points or substantial topics that relate to your central theme? Draw branches from the circle, like branches from a tree, to these sub topics. Print the key words on these branches, use block capitals if your writing is not so neat. You can also use geometric shapes for these new areas, or sketch a small picture. Why not do both?

3. The structure will broadly follow the key words that you highlighted from the text. You may, however, find that some of the topics or key words lead you to make connections that at first you did not see. Make the associations and don’t be afraid to re-draw the mind map if it gets a little messy.

4. Begin branching off into smaller but related topics. Think fast! Your mind may work best in 5-7 minute intense periods. Using different coloured pens to show the relationship between separate yet related topics can be very powerful. You can use symbols as well as pictures if that seems to come more naturally.

5. Mind maps work to a great degree because of your choice of keywords and the fact that they are short and to the point. Don’t feel that you have to expand on these; you don’t.

6. Let your thoughts and imagination go wild when it comes to the images. Although a mind map is logical and so requires you to use the left side of your brain, it also requires the use of colours and images, both of which involve large amounts of right side brain activity. Don’t worry about how good at drawing you are. You don’t need to be particularly good at art; it just needs to be legible and only to you.

Check this out  it is a really helpful and practical guide to using mind maps to make and organise notes.

If you want to hear Tony Buzan talk about mind maps, just click on the link to the right of this page in the Blogroll.

I personally find mind maps one of the most effective learning and exam tools I have ever come across. A map is much more than a simple note taking technique used to record content. It presents that content in such a way that aids learning. You will recognise how topics inter-relate and so begin to understand the subject, not just remember it. It is also, as the name suggests, a map: it shows you the whole subject, not just one part of it, so that you can see where you need to go next. And, like a map, you can take many different routes to get to your destination and, in so doing, learn more about the subject. It is also ideal for revision and is much easier to review than traditional notes largely because of the pictures

Try something new today

Some people say that mind mapping does not work for them and that may be true. But I think that if you had never been to school and were trying to learn or solve a problem, as Leonardo discovered all those years ago you would more than likely draw pictures and link those pictures with words than record your thoughts in a black and white linear format, so give it a go.

An accountancy student blogs about her experience using mind maps to help her pass exams.

 A general blog about mind mapping

To pass an exam – do an exam

To ride a bike - Ride a bike

Although the debate around the value of examinations (testing) is set to continue, new research from Kent State University in the US suggests that examinations aid learning by making the brain develop more efficient ways of storing information. Dr. Katherine Rawson, associate professor in Kent State’s Department of Psychology, and former Kent State graduate student Mary Pyc published their research findings in the Oct. 15, 2010, issue of the journal Science. 

“Taking practice tests – particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory – can drastically increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to remember that information again later,” Rawson said. 

In the article titled “Why Testing Improves Memory: Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis,” Rawson and Pyc reported an experiment indicating that at least one reason why testing is good for memory is that testing supports the use of more effective encoding strategies. In particular the brain comes up with mental keywords – called mediators – which trigger memories which they would not do when studying only.

 I have to say that this comes as no surprise to me nor would it to any student or anyone who has ever read a book on memory techniques.   It does however add some significant evidence to support the use of testing or mock examinations as a means of preparation for the real thing.

 To pass examinations you require much more than just memory techniques, and in many ways all this research* has done is show that you can recall certain words far more easily if you link them via another word, the mediator, and then test to find out if you can in fact remember them. But because you can’t pass an exam without remembering what you have learned it does mean that by spending a little more time in encoding the information and by testing yourself afterwards you must improve your chances of passing.

 To my mind the research still has some way to go in recognising the other benefits of doing practice exams or tests, and I should add looking at the answers. For example do they not give a very clear indication of the standard required, provide focus as to what is important and what is not, give a concise summary of key parts of the syllabus, show how the knowledge should be applied in the context of the question and improve your level of concentration knowing that you will be tested latter, I could go on.

 How does this help – some tips

 When trying to get something into your head, don’t just read it, although reading is a method of learning, it is not very effective when it comes to remembering. Reading is largely an auditory process; you say the words in your head. Ever heard the saying “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. At the same time as reading, underline the key words and make notes with those key words. The very process of extracting them from the text will help. Next you need to remember those key words, well why not link them with a story (A mediator) or with single words as illustrated in the study. There are several memory techniques that use the principle of association to link words, check out the “stack and link and number rhyme” systems. See video below for an example of how to use the number rhyme system.

 And then of course you need to test yourself and your ability to recall those key words afterwards.

 So be in confident and inspired that what you new has now been proven and that  tests are not just about finding out if you will pass or fail the exam, they are an integral and vital part of the learning process, and that’s a fact.

 *In the research they asked students to remember Swahili-English word pairs, such as ‘wingu – cloud and use a mediator (wingu’ sounds like ‘wing’ – the mediator, birds have wings and fly in the ‘clouds) to link the two.

For more thoughts on what this means – click 

Thanks for the memories – principles of memory

What do you think this is?

This evening I will once again be delivering a live webinar on exam techniques and how to learn more effectively by using exam questions as a guide, Exam focused learning. The event ends with the suggestion that having produced a set of notes from which you can then begin to revise, you should commit this material to memory.

So I thought I would devote this blog to looking at what I call the principles of memory. These aren’t memory techniques in themselves but overriding principles that form the basis of most if not all memory techniques.

Principle one – It’s all about input
The first principle of memory is how you record (input) the information in the first place. Put the information in, in the right way and you will remember it, the wrong way and you won’t.

Firstly, get into the right mood
The way you feel, your emotional state, the mood you are in all create powerful ways of encoding information. Take for example the classic memory question: can you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot? Or more recent events: when the Twin Towers collapsed or when Princess Diana or Michal Jackson died? The reason you tend to remember these events is partly because it was unexpected, something you never imagined possible, it probably changed your mood to one of shock or surprise.

From a practical exam point of view, the best mood to be in when studying is curiosity. The more curious you are about something the more likely you are to remember it afterwards.

Secondly, use your imagination – exaggerate
Something that is imagined is, by definition, not real: it is made up, created by you and can be an image, a sound, a smell a taste or a feeling. For most people, an imagined event will probably be visual, you will see it or auditory you will hear it. We have a much greater ability to recall events if we play a part in their original construction. The event should be large, loud and unusual, do not go for something that is ordinary, ordinary is never easy to remember.

Lastly, use your senses
As all information is fed into the brain through the senses, as a result it should come as no surprise that they play an important part in what we can remember. They are effectively the input system. The combination and use of as many of your senses as possible will help create a unique event and the more unique the event, the easier it will be to remember. Although you have many senses the most powerful forms of input are your ability to visualise and to hear.

Principle two – Association and organisation

The second principle, the information you want to remember needs to be organised and associated. Although you may remember something in the form of a visual image or sound, it will become increasingly difficult to retrieve that image unless it is stored in your memory in an organised and structured way. One of the best ways of storing images is to associate them with something that you already remember. For example, it is far easier to remember the name of certain trees if you imagine a tree with branches and on each of the branches you hang the name of the different types of trees.

Almost all of the memory techniques use some form of association in order to create the memory.

Principle three – Repetition

And lastly we are back to repetition. Unfortunately there is no substitute for going over something again and again and again. All methods of input will benefit from some form of reinforcement by repeating the process.

In Summary

In order to create a memory, you need a sequence of events. Firstly, you need to input the information in the most suitable way. This might be by using images or sounds. Make sure you are in the right mood or state when you do this, and the more you exaggerate the event the more likely you will be to remember it later. But creating a powerful memory using images or sounds is only part of the process. Think of the memory as a piece of paper. Yes, you have recorded the information, but you now need to make sure it is filed away so that you will be able to find it. This is why you need to organize the memory: it needs to be labelled and, where possible, associated with some existing information. And, finally, go over the process several times just to reinforce it.

Oh and just in case you were curious, the picture above is of a neuron and it is when one neuron connects with another that a memory is created. The more you repeat something the more powerful the connection and so is the memory.

This is an extract from my book the E word (E for exam) that should be on the book shelves in the next few months.