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Take Brain-Friendly Notes With Mind Maps

When I’m in class, I tend to take a lot of notes. Then, I proceed to forget everything I learned, hoping I can remember the important stuff later on when I start studying for tests or preparing for papers. The trouble is, I often get lost in the sea of my notes, and have trouble weeding out the important parts of my notes that I really need to know.

With the hierarchical (I, II, III/a, b, c) notes I take, it’s also hard to connect one idea to another. Everything has its place, and no two ideas are ever well-connected. That, too, makes studying and writing papers difficult, as it’s hard to see the broader themes of the material.

All this changed when I discovered Mind Maps. Mind maps help to visually bring out the hierarchy of ideas, and how different ideas fit under the same umbrella. It’s a different way of taking notes or brainstorming than simply making numbered lists, but it’s a really useful one. Our brains tend to think more creatively and wildly than simply up-and-down, line by line, and mind maps tap into that well.

Mind mapping works like this: You start with a central idea- let’s say “The Cold War.” Then, you branch out into smaller ideas, but still important ones. World War II, Richard Nixon, Joseph Stalin, The United States, and The USSR are good ones. Then, under each of those, you continue down the line- what’s important to know about each of these? Why are they relevant?

Once you’ve put down all the relevant information, it’s time to draw connections. Maybe the Vietnam War and World War II were started by the same thing- draw a line between them. You’ll be amazed at how intertwined everything is. Here’s how it might look:


The two best uses for mind maps, for me, have been outlining papers and studying for tests. As a politics major, I write a ton, and always have to know how things are connected. Often, graphing it out and seeing it visually helps me see how different people and events were relevant to each other. I’ve started using it to take notes in class, as well, and I’m loving it.

There are a huge number of mind mapping tools online, most of which are free to use. Here are a few of the ones I’ve tested and liked:

MindMeister: Great if you want to work with a group online to figure things out; otherwise, just a good mindmapping tool.

Mind42: Probably the simplest pure mind maps, but it lets you attach pictures and notes to each branch. The one I use. No signup required, unless you want to save a map. Simple Tab and Enter creation, easy to work with. It is pretty bare-bones, though, so for more features use one of the other two.

How do you take notes? Visually, or using the Cornell method, or some other wacky way? Share it with us in the comments.

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5 Responses to “Take Brain-Friendly Notes With Mind Maps”

  1. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for providing links to these sites. I find amazing! I tried it for my history class and lit class. Great help!

    Got any other helpful web tools for classes?

  2. David Pierce says:

    I’m so glad you asked! What I’m going to try to continue to do over time, as I keep getting my feet wet here, is provide tons of tools that will help you everything in your school life a little bit better, easier, and more fun. Stay tuned, and let me know how I’m doing!

  3. Dan Smith says:

    I’ve used mind-maps in class for about a year. I make them on paper and try to keep each subject (usually one lecture) to a page of A4 paper.

    I tend to add relavant doodles and pictures to some of he headings as it helps me to remember what I’ve learned.

    This system makes it pretty easy to review my notes on any given subject: I just have to pick up the sheet of A4 and because it’s visual I don’trealy have to read much. Just looking at it is usualy enough to remind me.

  4. Robyn says:

    I have been looking for a great Mind Map app, and that one is simple and just what I need. Thanks!

  5. Dianne says:

    What IS the Cornell method of note-taking?