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Visualize your notes: The mind map

Rahul, Class of 2022, Psychology

In my two years of undergrad, mind mapping wasn’t my initial note-taking method. I used to annotate printed slides, which most university students do.

However, annotating printed slides just didn’t work for me since I ended up summarizing what was written down and spending too much time translating it into something more visual—the way I liked to learn the material from my courses.

Towards the end of my first year, I ended up scurrying along to Mac-Corry to study by the glass boards for who knows how long, mostly for PSYC 100. It was an astonishing amount of material that I had to study! As the exam date neared, I realized that I needed to somehow see all the information at once. In those moments, I made several mind maps, one for each module. The time I spent creating them and understanding what I was seeing, it helped me successfully pass my PSYC 100 exam!

So, what is a mind map?

Think of a mind map like a map of Queen’s – consider Stauffer Library as the central location, where the main roads leading from it include University Avenue and Union Street. Here, Stauffer Library represents the central topic and the main roads represent the main ideas. The secondary roads include Bader Lane, 5th Field Company Lane, Arch Street, etc; these roads represent secondary ideas. The landmarks on campus can be represented as images on your mind map to better visualize what these streets look like.

Making a mind map involves selecting and organizing information in a visual, hierarchical format that radiates from a central topic. The monotonous information written down into my PSYC 100 notes was transformed into several diagrams that were colourful, highly organized, and memorable.

See what we have here? Something more visual, rather than text-heavy notes that have been scrawled down into your notebook that you will eventually have to better organize in the long run.

Why should you use a mind map?

A mind map’s biggest advantage lies in its visual power.

  • It shows relationships and connections.
  • It’s scalable—you can represent the content of a lecture or textbook chapter, or a whole course.
  • It’s flexible—you can write in charts, tables, timelines, or other visual diagrams; you can put your ideas down in any order, as soon as they pop into your head.
  • You can draw and insert pictures associated with ideas.
  • You can make flashcards out of them; this is a big one! From the map of ideas that I’ve seen, I have been able to curate multiple types of questions out of them: definitions, compare/contrast, true/false, and questions that get at the how/why of the information, where courses challenge your thinking the most.
  • It’s compact and all on one page–making it much easier to explain the topic to a friend.
  • The keywords/phrases that you put down trigger associations with details/other ideas.
  • When you learn additional information, you can immediately categorize it under a branch instead of blindly transcribing the information that is presented to you.

How can you make your mind map stand out?

  • Use images.
  • Use colour—don’t make it boring! The more you put into your mind maps, the more likely you will be able to concentrate on creating them.
  • Draw arrows to indicate relationships between topics. This enables you to create associations between ideas. Additionally, you visualize these relationships since you are already making a mind map!

What else can you use a mind map for?

  1. For outlining your assignments: a way to flesh out your ideas.
  2. For breaking down a big project into smaller steps.
  3. Brainstorming sessions.
  4. Scheduling; determining what your priorities are and how/when to tackle them.

A strategic approach

  1. Have a reading to do before class? Skim the reading and map out the main ideas and subtopics in it. Then, read for detail, while adding on to what you have previously written; this method will help you concentrate more on your readings now that you know what to read for.
  2. Before class, read, if possible, any slides that are posted and map out the main ideas and subtopics in them. If any of these overlap with a reading you needed to do beforehand, it’s very likely that these overlapping topics will be on a test or exam, so make sure you *star* them.
  3. During class, add what you have gained onto the main ideas and details you have previously written down—like doing a reading, you’ll be more focused during lecture since you’ll know what to pay attention to.
  4. After class, determine what the missing gaps are in the information–what don’t you understand? Email your prof or request to visit them during their office hours.
  5. Once you have all the information that you need, take the time to format your mind map; add colour, draw connections between the ideas, add images; do anything that makes it stick out in your mind!

Key Takeaways

  1. Mind maps are powerful visual tools for seeing the main ideas, their details, and the connections between them. In other words, it allows you to see both the map as a whole and its main and side streets!
  2. A bonus of mind maps is that details can be easily added, deleted and moved around, in any order.
  3. Mind maps combine elements from other note-taking methods (i.e. hierarchy, colour, visuals, summaries, charts, etc.) and are generally best for courses that focus on conceptual ideas.


  • More note-taking methods, including a description of mind mapping.
  • Hazel Wagner, a lifelong learner, shares her work on mind mapping and what it can do for understanding, memorization, and retention in this Ted Talk.
  • This website provides a detailed description of what mind mapping is and the theory behind its practicality.