Memory is a funny thing–sometimes it works for us and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to remember: maybe you want to explain how “Auntie Lucy” is related to the family, or perhaps you want to describe the Order of Battle at Normandy. You can improve your chances of pulling the right information together if you build mind maps. A mind map is a graphic representation of your thought process, linking one idea to another to build relationships that are meaningful to you. Mind mapping is a skill that takes a bit of practice–you receive information, process it, and draw your map as one continuous process. Once you have mastered it, though, you can use mind mapping techniques to plan projects and solve problems, take notes in class and even retrieve that information to memorize and study for exams.

Use your imagination and style to make your mind map. Your mind map is a graphic representation of the way your brain makes mental connections, so don’t try to design your map according to someone else’s rules. Make a map that is useful to you. If you will learn best with a highly-structured map that uses geometric shapes and straight lines, go for it.

Review the material you need to memorize. Start in the center of your “page” and write the central idea or thread of the topic or problem you want to memorize. You can draw a circle or square around it to identify it more clearly.

Arrange a first level of information around the central idea. Add sub-topics and supporting ideas, names and dates, steps in the process, ingredients–again, you select the information that is important for this level.

Continue to add levels of information to the map in an organizational pattern that helps you make sense of the data. Use lines and arrows to connect ideas and show relationships between items on the map.

Study the map you have drawn. Imagine that it is a picture and try to store that picture in your memory. Now, recall what the picture looks like. Draw it again and compare the new version to the original. Make corrections to the new map, if necessary; add items you left off, connect ideas. You may need to do this once or twice, but as you draw and check, the details and relationships should become more solidly embedded in your mind.