Recently the Washington Post published results of a study that surprised most students and instructors: many of the most popular study and review methods have low effectiveness in actually helping us remember and understand the material we are studying. Some of the study techniques disavowed as helpful included summarization, highlighting, the keyword mnemonic, imagery use for text learning, and rereading.
When I read this article it actually made a lot of sense to me. Before I developed my own study style and started to figure out what study methods are most effective for me* I’d find myself frustrated when, after a week or more of reviewing, rereading, and outlining chapters, I’d get test results back feeling like my score did not reflect the amount of time I’d spent studying. The results of this research validate the fact that time studying is not always correlated to test scores, especially when you are studying with a method that either does not work or does not work for a particular individual and their learning style.
*The study methods most effective for me are: 1. mind-mapping to understand information in relationship to other information, 2. illustrating concepts I need to memorize, and 3. old fashioned flash cards (Paper flash cards! While I use digital flashcards, when I’m intensely studying a topic I still make index card flash cards because I think the tactile experience of handling the information helps me learn) Today’s blog post is about #1, mind mapping to locate information in relationship.
Mind Maps as an Alternate Study Method for Outlining Chapter Content
Mind Maps can be helpful at any level of study from high school through college and well into graduate and post grad studies. As the amount of information covered in courses increases, it’s increasingly helpful to be able to locate at a glance what information is most important and what information is peripheral data.
The Problem with Outlines
Outlines can be helpful when information is structured well and points are clear and balanced. Rarely, however, is that the case. Often information in a chapter is off balance, with some points bearing more importance and more places of connection than other points. Chapter outlines don’t capture this well, nor do they help the student understand where information that is non-chronological might relate back to previous points.
My Method for Mind Mapping Chapter “Outlines”
By mind mapping in a free-form format, information can connect to any other piece of information, and as you locate connections you increase understanding of the concepts and organically begin to locate (via the visual clues of lines) what information is most important and what is not.
- Begin reading with a notepad or (my preference) a large sketchbook nearby.
- As you read, I locate important data, copy it on to my paper, and enclose my writing in a box or circle. Clues that information are important include:
- Header Text, bold or underlined text, or text otherwise indicated as important by the Author.
- Sentences that are particularly helpful in explaining a concept, for me.
- Memorable, useful, or helpful quotes can be copied verbatim.
- Each time I add a new bubble to my mind map I ask “How does this relate to other information I have written?” and if there is a connection, I draw a line connecting.
- As bubbles and connections grow, the connecting lines become a natural indicator of what information is most critical to understanding the concept being studied and what information is less critical and, since it received less weight in the text, is less likely to be on a test.
Summary & Examples
Outlining assigned chapters is via Mind Map is a great way to read for retention, study for tests, or to create your own reference materials based on a reading. Below I’ve included two outlines of chapters from A Little Manual for Knowing by Esther Lightcap Meek, a book used in a graduate level course in my Psych grad program to study epistemology (the philosophy of how we know what we know) and the difference between knowledge as “data retention” vs a “pursuit of truth and wisdom of reality”. Heady stuff- but foundationally helpful as an entrance to study in a field where hard data and the value of intuition often find themselves at war.
A more bullet-point style outline format can be seen in the 50 page paper of chapter summaries that I prepared for my Psychopathology course in 2016.