The efﬁcacy of the ‘mind map’ study technique
& Enid Hennessy
Objectives To examine the effectiveness of using the
‘mind map’ study technique to improve factual recall
from written information.
Design To obtain baseline data, subjects completed a
short test based on a 600-word passage of text prior to
being randomly allocated to form two groups: ‘self-
selected study technique’ and ‘mind map’. After a
30-minute interval the self-selected study technique
group were exposed to the same passage of text previ-
ously seen and told to apply existing study techniques.
Subjects in the mind map group were trained in the
mind map technique and told to apply it to the passage
of text. Recall was measured after an interfering task
and a week later. Measures of motivation were taken.
Setting Barts and the London School of Medicine and
Dentistry, University of London.
Subjects 50 second- and third-year medical students.
Results Recall of factual material improved for both
the mind map and self-selected study technique
groups at immediate test compared with baseline.
However this improvement was only robust after a
week for those in the mind map group. At 1 week, the
factual knowledge in the mind map group was greater
by 10% (adjusting for baseline) (95% CI –1% to
22%). However motivation for the technique used was
lower in the mind map group; if motivation could have
been made equal in the groups, the improvement with
mind mapping would have been 15% (95% CI 3% to
Conclusion Mind maps provide an effective study
technique when applied to written material. However
before mind maps are generally adopted as a study
technique, consideration has to be given towards ways
of improving motivation amongst users.
;Education, medical, undergraduate/
*methods; educational measurement, *methods;
London; *motivation; problem-based learning,
Medical Education 2002;36:426–431
have recently emerged which
aim to improve memory for medical information by
representing facts in the form of ‘mind maps’. Mind
is a study technique in which information
from a variety of sources is converted into a diagram-
matic representation of the important key words asso-
ciated with a study topic. During production, an image
representing the main study topic is initially drawn in
the centre of the mind map. Extending from this central
image are several major branches containing keywords
representing the topic subheadings, which are accom-
panied by an image whenever possible. The important
detail included under each subheading is written upon
smaller branches projecting from the subheadings with
more detailed information being connected to this
information. By undergoing this process, information
initially contained within passages of text becomes
hierarchically organized, with the most general infor-
mation being presented in the centre of the mind map
and material of increasing detail being presented at the
extremes. When the mind map is read, the central
image forms the starting point and the branch to the top
right-hand of the central image is the ﬁrst branch
inspected. When this branch has been inspected the
other branches are covered in a similar manner, work-
ing in a clockwise fashion. Throughout the whole
process, imagery, colour and the visual-spatial
arrangement of the material are emphasized. Whilst
Department of Human Science, Barts and The London School of
Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary College, University of London,
London, UK (Now at Institute of Health Studies, University of
Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen
Mary College, University of London, London, UK
Department of Environmental and Preventive Medicine, Barts and
The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary College,
The University of London, London, UK
Correspondence: P A Farrand, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Health
Studies, University of Plymouth, Earl Richards Road North, Exeter,
Devon, EX2 6AS, UK. Tel.: 01392 475 123; Fax: 01392 475 151;
426 Blackwell Science Ltd MEDICAL EDUCAT I O N 2002;36:426–431
many of the components used in mind maps have been
individually incorporated into commonly used study
techniques, their efﬁcacy of use when combined within
a single study technique has not been examined.
Study techniques which have separately incorporated
imagery, colour or the visual-spatial arrangement of
keywords have each been reported to signiﬁcantly
improve recall when compared with simple note taking
or rote rehearsal. For example, spatially arranging a
series of keywords into a distinctive pattern prior to
making associations, as would be common in study
techniques such as spider diagrams, signiﬁcantly
The use of study techniques based
upon imagery, such as the method of loci,
the recall of 40 words in a study in which students were
trained to associate each word with a particular campus
location during learning.
techniques based upon visual imagery have been shown
to be even more effective when colour was additionally
used to enhance the self-generated visual image.
That recall improves when study techniques incor-
porate the use of these components is, however, not
surprising. Even when used separately, these compo-
nents can all be seen to support cognitive processes
which have been reported to improve memory. The
theory of levels of processing
proposes that the level of
processing used whilst learning new material dictates
the success with which it will later be recalled. The
theory suggests that a deeper level of processing, such as
that achieved when meaning is extracted from incoming
information, will result in a better level of recall than
shallow processing, used when information is simply
rehearsed or written down. The elaboration of new
material has been proposed as another mechanism to
Elaboration requires associations to be
made between the new incoming information and
information already resident in memory (proactive
facilitation). When such associations are made, the
connection to information which has already been learnt
supports the learning and retention of the new infor-
mation. Additionally, the distinctiveness of information
inﬂuences its memorability. New information which is
more distinct, or which is made so during processing, is
recalled more easily than information for which the
memory trace resembles that of information already
resident in memory.
Whilst the effectiveness of different study techniques
for improving memory has been shown empirically, the
implications of the results for the design of educational
materials have been disappointing. Often the study
techniques have been limited in application to the recall
of ordered lists of keywords.
When attempts have
been made to apply these strategies to improving the
recall of written information, they have been largely
Furthermore, whilst many of these
study methods have been shown to improve memory
performance on a test of immediate recall, longer-term
improvements have been more elusive.
The limitations of many of the commonly adopted
study techniques are particularly problematic if such
techniques are applied to medical curricula based on
problem-based learning (PBL). Due to the emphasis in
PBL upon a self-directed approach,
students need a
study technique which will help them improve their
memory for written material whilst complementing the
deeper level of learning obtained with PBL. Such a study
technique is particularly important given that a current
weakness of PBL is that students perform worse on tests
requiring the recall of factual material when compared
with students undertaking lecture-based curricula.
Additionally, the greater degree of organization of
information afforded by mind maps may potentially
overcome the further weakness of PBL in that know-
ledge acquired tends to remain largely unorganized.
Although mind mapping may be a particularly
effective study technique within PBL curricula, its
efﬁcacy needs to be established before such a technique
is recommended to students. This paper examines
whether mind mapping is efﬁcacious as a study tech-
nique and whether it overcomes many limitations
identiﬁed with previous study techniques.
A total of 50 second- and third-year medical under-
graduate students, attending Barts and The London
School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Lon-
don, volunteered to take part in the study after viewing
a recruitment poster. Their mean age was 20Æ1 years,
and there were 31 women and 19 men. Participants
Key learning points
Mind maps are an effective study technique when
used to improve factual recall from written mate-
Concern exists regarding levels of motivation
amongst the medical students using mind maps.
Whilst the mind map technique would seem to be
particularly suited to problem-based learning
(PBL) curricula, effective training is required to
both encourage and motivate students in its use.
Blackwell Science Ltd MEDICAL EDUCATI O N 2002;36:426–431
The ‘mind map’ study technique •P Farrand et al. 427
were alternately assigned to the between subjects
conditions (mind map vs. self-selected study technique)
based on the order in which they presented for the
study. The allocation of students resulted in groups
with similar characteristics with the exception that there
were slightly fewer men in the mind map group (see
Table 1). There was no subject drop-out from any of
A 600-word sample of text was taken from an article
which had appeared in Scientiﬁc American. The topic of
the sample was unusual forms of transportation and had
been chosen to minimize the possibility that subjects
had prior knowledge about the material to be tested.
Three question sets containing 15 questions each were
developed from the study text. All questions were of a
similar length and required the recall of a speciﬁc piece
of information presented in the text (for example, ‘Who
ordered the cancellation of the atomic plane program?’).
Question sets were extensively piloted to ensure that
ceiling or ﬂoor effects did not arise, and each set
reﬂected a similar level of difﬁculty. The order of
presentation of the question sets was fully randomized
by both subject and session throughout the study.
During the baseline session of the experiment, subjects
received the study text and were told to study it using
their existing study techniques. Exclusively, the tech-
niques spontaneously used were to write down the key
words, re-read or underline key words. No participant
used a method resembling mind mapping at this stage.
After 10 minutes the study text was collected and
subjects were given a 5-minute mental arithmetic test to
prevent rehearsal of the study text. During recall, sub-
jects were allowed 5 minutes to complete one of three
question sets. At the end of the baseline session, sub-
jects in the self-selected study technique condition were
informed about session 1 of the experiment and asked
to return 30 min later. Subjects in the mind map
condition however, were given a 30-minute lesson in
the mind map technique. The lesson used material
totally unrelated to the study text to demonstrate the
best ways to produce and memorize mind maps and
gave subjects the opportunity to ask questions about the
During session 1, subjects were exposed to the study
text again for an additional 10-minute period. Subjects
in the mind map condition were advised to divide the
time between reading the study text and producing a
mind map and studying it. Subjects forming the self-
selected study technique condition were advised to
divide their time between reading the text and using
their existing study methods. None of the subjects in
the self-selected study technique condition used mind
maps as their preferred method of study. Following a
mental arithmetic task all subjects were again given
5 minutes to complete the question set. Additionally all
subjects were requested to complete a 5-point scale
which assessed level of motivation in studying the
material (1 ¼very unmotivated, 5 ¼very motivated).
At the end of this session the mind maps were collected
from the mind map group and all the subjects were told
about session 2 and requested to attend 1 week later.
At session 2, all subjects were given 5 minutes to
complete the ﬁnal question set without any additional
exposure to the study text.
Analysis of variance (
) was performed, with
group (mind map vs. self-selected study technique) as
the independent variable and number of items correct
at session 1 and session 2 separately as the dependent
variables. In both cases baseline was included as a
covariate to account for differences between groups,
and in neither case were there statistically signiﬁcant
differences in the mean change from baseline in the
number of correct items, although it approached
signiﬁcance for the results after 1 week (P¼0Æ07)
(Table 2). Non-adjusted data are presented in Fig. 1.
Signiﬁcant differences however, existed between the
levels of self-reported motivation for the groups
¼2Æ35, P¼0Æ02), with the mind map group
surprisingly reporting lower levels of motivation (mean-
¼2Æ8, SD ¼0Æ67) than the self-selected study technique
group (mean ¼3Æ2, SD ¼0Æ78) group. As there were
differences in motivation, the original data were reanal-
ysed with motivation used as an additional covariate.
With adjustment for baseline performance and
motivation, a signiﬁcant difference in performance was
found between the mind map and the self-selected
Table 1 Characteristics of the mind map and self-selected study
Mind map Self-selected study technique
Number 25 25
Mean age, years 20 20
Male, % 32 44
Baseline score 5 4Æ8
The ‘mind map’ study technique •P Farrand et al.
Blackwell Science Ltd MEDICAL EDUCAT I O N 2002;36:426–431
study groups. For both session 1 and session 2, the
mind map group recalled signiﬁcantly more correct
items than the self-selected study group, showing a
clear study advantage when the mind map was used,
which was robust over a 1-week time delay (see
That motivation may have differentially affected the
mind map and self-selected study technique groups is
further supported by a different pattern of partial
correlations with baseline performance controlled.
Motivation was signiﬁcantly correlated with perform-
ance at both session 1 and session 2 for the self-selected
study technique group (r
¼0Æ45, P¼0Æ039, respectively). Correlations
were, however, smaller for the mind map group, only
reaching full signiﬁcance at session 1 (r
¼0Æ30, P¼0Æ07, respectively). Cau-
tion should be exercised when interpreting these partial
correlations, however, because of the small sample size
for each group (n¼25). (Additionally, all analyses
were further replicated with sex as a covariate, but this
did not change any of the conclusions.)
Analysis of the data indicates that, as a strategy to
improve memory for written information, the mind map
technique has the potential for an important improve-
ment in efﬁcacy. With the mind map technique there is
an estimated increase of 10% without any change in
motivation, and an increase of 13% if there were such a
change. Mind maps are unlikely to worsen the learning
process as the lower end of the 95% conﬁdence interval
excluded a deterioration of more than 1%, and it is likely
in practice that those who did not like the technique
would continue with the one they currently used. At
both session 1 and session 2, the mind map technique
resulted in correct recall of a statistically signiﬁcantly
higher number of items than the self-selected study
technique, when adjustments for baseline score and
motivation were made. Importantly, the recall ad-
vantage with the mind map technique was robust over a
week, resulting in a 24% proportional increase in correct
recall when compared with baseline score. Recall
performance in the self-selected study technique was
actually a little worse (–6%) over the week. That
improvements in recall at a week re-test remained evi-
dent with just a single exposure to the mind map tech-
nique suggests a real beneﬁt of this study technique
compared with other memory strategies where beneﬁts
have been conﬁned only to tests of immediate recall.
That differences exist between the groups in
memory performance suggests that improvements that
arise with mind maps are likely to be dependent upon
Table 2 Difference in mean correct answers (95% CI) between mind map and self-selected study technique groups, at session 1 (day 1)
and session 2 (day 7)
Difference between mean
% difference in proportion of
Session 1(day 1)
Adjusted for baseline 0Æ8()0Æ6to2Æ3) 5Æ5()4Æ3to15Æ9) 0Æ26
Adjusted for baseline and motivation 1Æ7(0Æ3to3Æ1) 11Æ3(2Æ1to20Æ4) 0Æ016
Session 2 (day 7)
Adjusted for baseline 1Æ6()0Æ2to3Æ4) 10Æ7()1Æ1to22Æ5) 0Æ07
Adjusted for baseline and motivation 2Æ3(0Æ5to4Æ1) 15Æ3(3Æ3to27Æ3) 0Æ013
Figure 1 Mean unadjusted correct recall (maximum score ¼15),
using mind map and self-selected study techniques.
The ‘mind map’ study technique •P Farrand et al. 429
Blackwell Science Ltd MEDICAL EDUCATI O N 2002;36:426–431
improvements in cognitive processing. Whilst it is
beyond the scope of this study to identify the nature of
the cognitive processes supported when mind maps are
used, it is likely that mind maps encourage a deeper
level of processing than that obtained with the other,
more conventional study techniques adopted in the
self-selected study technique. A deeper level of infor-
mation processing has been associated with better
academic performance by medical students.
also been acknowledged, however, that fostering a
deep level of learning is very difﬁcult because students
do not spontaneously adopt strategies that foster such
A highly surprising ﬁnding was that motivation in the
self-selected study technique group was signiﬁcantly
higher than that in the mind map group, even though
participants in the latter group received training in the
mind map technique.
Straightforward relationships between training and
motivation have been extensively reported,
previous research also indicating that that the provision
of task training is often accompanied by increased
motivation in engaging with and using a study tech-
Training is believed to focus individuals
towards directing their efforts to working on the task
given rather than dividing their attention between other
tasks, and to increase the amount of time the individual
chooses to spend completing an activity.
groups, the well-established relationship between
motivation and recall performance
This relationship was weaker for the mind map group,
however, and was only marginally signiﬁcant (P¼0Æ07)
at session 2.
A possibility which might account for the lower level
of motivation in the mind map group is that there is
resistance to using memory strategies as study aids.
Students, especially males, have been reported to be
reluctant to use many memory strategies, preferring to
adopt more conventional techniques such as rehearsal,
repetition and summary elaboration, techniques
exclusively adopted by the students in the self-selected
Motivation in the mind map group may
therefore have been lower than in the self-selected study
group as students were trained and instructed to use a
strategy they were already reluctant to employ, which
may potentially raise other issues such as compliance in
using this study technique.
Higher levels of motiva-
tion might have been obtained if the medical students
used as participants had believed the mind map method
might improve their exam results, or if they had used it
to study medically related information. Previous
research indicates that students are only motivated in
their use of memory strategies when they are also
interested in the material being studied.
It should be
noted, however, that if successful efforts were made to
counter the reductions in motivation encountered when
the mind map technique was used, signiﬁcant further
recall beneﬁts of mind mapping would be expected.
This paper has shown the efﬁcacy of using mind
maps as a study aid, even when use has been limited to
a single exposure. The increased use of mind maps, and
the emergence of educational materials supporting the
use of mind maps, within medical curricula, should
therefore be cautiously welcomed. The mind map
technique would seem to be particularly suited to
medical curricula based around PBL, as both approa-
ches support, and encourage students to adopt a deeper
level of learning. Nevertheless, before mind maps were
recommended as a study technique, a way of providing
effective training would need to be established so that
students were encouraged and enthusiastic about
adopting this approach in preference to other more
conventional study techniques. With this aim in mind,
one possibility would be the incorporation of a mind
map training course into the ﬁrst few terms of the
medical curriculum, accompanying other sessions in
study skills often provided during the initial stages of a
Thanks are due to Richard Rowe for comments on an
earlier draft of this paper.
Contributions to the paper were as follows: Fearzana
Hussain originated the idea behind the research and
conducted the experimentation; Paul Farrand designed
the experiment and wrote the paper, whilst Enid
Hennessy conducted the statistical analysis.
The research was completed without external funding.
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Received 14 April 2000; editorial comments to authors 1August 2000
and 21 June 2001; accepted for publication 14 August 2001
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