The Story of Edward Hughes
In the first chapter of Tony Buzan’s wonderful little book, Use Both Sides of Your Brain, he share an amazing story, what I like to call his “Miracle Story.” I first read the story of Edward Hughes in about the early 1980s and have re-read and retold it many times.
Edward Hughes was a mediocre student. When Edward was 15 years old, he took the ‘O’ level exams (this is in England) and made C’s and B’s, much as he and everyone else expected. This was discouraging because he hoped to go to Cambridge.
His father introduced him to an earlier edition of Buzan’s book, Use Both Sides of Your Brain, with information on creating and using Mind Maps. Edward was immediately convinced he had found the secret to making excellent grades.
He told his teachers he wanted to take the exam for entrance to Cambridge. But his teachers, knowing Edward was only an average student, discouraged him.They told him he didn’t have a chance. He continued to insist on taking the exam, and they finally agreed. If Edward paid the fee, so he wouldn’t waste school money, he would be permitted to take the exam.
Edward began his preparation. He took his textbooks and went through them carefully, creating a Mind Map for each subject. As he continued his study, he found new information and expanded the Mind Maps. He colored and highlighted them, eventually creating giant Mind Maps. The book never says how large these Mind Maps were but I picture them as large pieces of poster board hanging on his walls. The book does say some Maps covered an entire subject. For other subjects he divided the material into sections with a giant Mind Map for each section.
He read important books related to his subjects, chose the ones that seemed most important, and studied them in detail. He realized he needed to improve his writing skills and studied this area too, creating Mind Maps to organize his ideas for essays.
In addition to continuing his studies, Edward now began his schedule of review. Once a week, he would take a clean sheet of paper and attempt to redraw the Mind Map for that subject by memory. He compared his new efforts to the original and made corrections. As the date for the exam approached, he reviewed more often. In addition to his studies, Edward worked on physical fitness. running several miles two or three times a week.
For this sort of exam, students select certain subjects and write essays on the assigned topics. He chose four subjects: Geography, Geography Scholarship, Medieval History, and Business.The results were astonishing. He made top scores on every test he took. On one test, he made the highest score ever.
The story continues in college. Edward set all sorts of impressive goals for himself. He wanted to be the president of the largest organization on campus. He wanted to start a new organization. He wanted time to participate in athletics. He did all this and, again, made incredible scores on his final exams.
My response to this story
My first response was like that of many other readers. We were immediately convinced that Mind Maps could do miracles. What is most astonishing to me is the number of books on teaching over the next twenty-five years that included Mind Maps as an important strategy. Many of them began or ended each chapter with a Mind Map of the chapter’s content. (Perhaps they didn’t realize that when someone else creates a Mind Map or other visual organizer for you, much of the power is lost. The power comes from creating your own visuals.)
For years, my only problem with Mr. Buzan’s little book was his very precise “Laws” for creating a Mind Map.
1. You are to begin with an image or a single word in the center of the page.
2. You should use images where possible in the Mind Map.
3. You should Print words.
4. All words should be on lines. (In this book, most lines are straight. In later books he uses all curving lines.
5. There can only be one word per line. If your term, like “Supreme Court” required two words, you would write “Court’, then, on a line bent to one side, add “Supreme.”
6. Use colors
7. Be creative. Let your mind be “as free as possible.”
Being an extremely independent person, I proceeded to ignore Buzan’s rules in my maps. I often use two or more words as a title or subcategory. I normally put all the words inside circles or rectangles (which fit better around the words.) I hate his curved lines and use straight ones instead. His words follow the line. Mine are always horizontal making them easier to read. While he’s probably correct about images and color making Mindmaps more memorable, I rarely use images and only occasionally use color. (I use color when other people will read them.)
In this book, Buzan’s maps seem fairly well-organized. In his later books, I found some of them that were really strange. I finally read Buzan’s statement that he is a right-brained, a more creative person and he frequently uses Mindmaps for brainstorming where rational organization isn’t important.
I am the opposite. I am more left-brained, although I also can be creative. I like maps that are carefully organized to reflect the author’s structure, or my own somewhat-improved structure.
I had to laugh while reading one of Buzan’s books. A reader was using Mind Maps to organize things to do each day of the week and thought the Mindmaps were wonderful. That’s totally ridiculous. A calendar or weekly schedule would be much more logical and helpful.
There certainly are situations where a Mind Map (or what I call a concept map) is very useful, especially to show the structure of the material. For other purposes, however, it may be best to use other strategies. When covering a lot of detailed information, I’d recommend an outline. For comparing a lot of related material, a Matrix can be extremely helpful. For studying events over time, one or multiple Timelines work best.
Now, I think back to the wonderful story of Edward Hughes. I continue to hope it’s a true story, that Edward Hughes really exists. I Googled his name and can’t find anyone who seems to match his description. It is quite possible that the story was true but that Buzan changed his name in the story.
I rather suspect, however, that there never was such a person. Buzan may have based the story on the experiences of several students who used Mind Maps or he might have completely invented the story.
As far as I’m concerned, even if Edward never existed, the story is still true. It really is possible for a highly motivated mediocre student to discover new learning strategies and become a top student. For this sort of miracle, however, he would need to be extremely intelligent and he would need to be very highly motivated in order to make this sort of major change.
If you, like Edward, decide to make huge, detailed maps of the subjects you are studying, you might have a problem. They might all start to look alike. For better learning, you should try using a variety of different visual organizers. If you use what I call concept maps, try to create them with different shapes. You might use circles in one and squares in another.
It was NOT the Mind Maps that made the difference
Many years went by. I re-read the book dozens of times. I used maps frequently. They were fun to make but they really didn’t seem that helpful. I was still certain that the kind of map wasn’t that important.
Slowly the truth became clear. It wasn’t the Mind Maps that made the difference. At first I announced that it was the scheduled reviews that were the secret. After reading the book again, I realized it was more than that. When you read Buzan’s wonderful little book, notice that he covers many other topics… or what seem to be secrets to better learning, all based on research on how we learn.
1. When given a list of random words it is hard to remember more than the first few and the last few. Since we remember what we read at the beginning and end of a study period, we can divide a study period in half, taking a short break in-between and remember nearly twice as much. This means than studying in short periods – 15 or 20 minutes long – will help us remember much more of what we read.
2. We remember words in-between if they are very unusual. His example was a list of simple one-syllable objects with one longer unexpected word. In a list something like this, the word you were most likely to remember is obvious.
dog book chair plate lamp tree Frankenstin pen rock bridge
It is thus easier to remember something if we can tie it to something very strange, something outrageous, or something related to sex.
3. We are more likely to remember words that are repeated several times:
paper pen stick pen apple chair pen bird bottle spoon pen
This points to the use of rote learning, repeating vocabulary words or information over and over again.
4. We are more likely to remember a group of words that are closely related like
horse, cow, sheep, pig, chicken
plate, glass, fork, spoon, knife
orange, pear, peach, grape, cherry, apple
This is known as chunking. We remember information better when we can chunk ideas together or associate new information with information you already knew.
These ideas are mentioned in other books on memory but Buzan begins with research.
5. Other books describe research showing that students who read an article and then test themselves to see what they remember, do better than students who read the article twice. Buzan did not have this research but, in the story, Edward Hughes frequently tested his memory by taking a blank sheet of paper and re-creating his Mind Maps.
The process of self testing – of re-creating your map, outline, summary, etc. is MORE IMPORTANT than using Mind Maps.
6. Other books suggest re-reading your previous lecture notes just before the next lecture. They mention reviewing for tests. Occasionally they suggest reviewing regularly. Buzan seems to be first to suggest scheduled reviews, beginning soon after a lecture or reading, again before sleeping, and then daily, several times a week, weekly, monthly, etc.
Of all the methods that helped Edward Hughes, I would suggest that the most important are self-testing and scheduled reviews.
To compare Mind Maps and Concept Maps Compare Mapping Styles