Edward Hughes

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.

Lessons Learned

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 read more about Scheduled Reviews            To read about Concept Maps

To compare Mind Maps and Concept Maps  Compare Mapping Styles

5 Responses to Edward Hughes

  1. NADIA says:

    5 MARS à19H50

    • Judy says:

      Dear Nadia, I am sorry but I don’t understand French. I used 4 different translators and none made much sense. I certainly understand the problems readers must have trying to read pages on the website by using the translator.

      Putting the 4 translations together and guessing, I think I understand most of what you said.

      “I started to read the book by Tony Buzan and I have read the history of Edward Hughes, but I have a doubt. Will you advise me to finish or not? I have a ??? lot of work and reading to do. I need a method to get organized. ??? Thank you for helping me.”

      If you or another reader who is fluent in both French and English thinks it would help to write an improved translation, that would be helpful.

      Nadia, you say you have a doubt. Is the doubt about whether to finish reading the book? I certainly think this is an excellent book. It influenced my thinking in many ways. If the problem is that you don’t have time to read the whole book, let me list the main ideas.

      1. Buzan introduces the ide of Mind Maps and gives a long list of rigid rules for creating them. I prefer concept maps – meaning a diagram showing logical connections rather than your train of thought and I prefer recommend that people use only the rules they find helpful or make their own rules.

      2. Buzan refers to important early research on memory. It is easier to remember information that is “chunked” or organized in a meaningful way. For example “Sofa Cat under black the the is” is hard to memorize. It doesn’t mean anything. “The Cat is under the black sofa” is easy to remember. It makes sense.

      3. If you memorize information and don’t review it, you forget very quickly. Students often cram for a test and forget nearly everything in a week or two – sometimes faster. If you memorize the material (best in chunks) and review regularly (Buzan’s Scheduled Reviews) you will remember the information much longer. If you continue scheduled reviews for a lifetime, you can remember most of it for a lifetime.

      4. Reading the book or the chapter again is not studying. It is still reading. Buzan recommends Self-Testing. You can do your Concept Map again without looking at the original and then compare the two. Make additions or corrections. But you can also re-do your outline or your summary or a compare and contrast chart or a timeline, etc. and test yourself that way. You can have a list of questions and answers and test your memory. Actually the old flash-card method is designed for self-testing. Research shows that reading once and then self testing several times helps students make higher grades than if they read a chapter 4 times.

      You might also check the links from this page to related pages for more information.

      Your question about being better organized doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of your comment. You might find it helpful to read the page on Flexible Time Management.

      I hope this answers your questions. If not, please find a way to respond in English.


  2. Clém63France says:

    In first place, i would like to ensure you Edward Hughes does exist :
    In second place, i just finished (in the minute) Tony Buzan’s book, and do not totally agree with your analyse of his book (with all my respect for your work). I strongly have thought about learning and i notice by reading this book, that buzan delivers us a life time deep-thought of the topic. In fact, the mindmap tool in himself is useless. The only thing that matters is the work of creating it, which allows our mind to have a global, direct and organized view of information. In that way, mindmaps are much more revelant than others forms of learning (i especially think about traditionnal notes). Of course, it depends of people and what is needed to learn. But that technique, which both is useful for brain-storming and memoring, is efficient when it uses all senses (color, image, words), and mind-representation, and repetition.

    In hope, my intervention will be constructive.
    Sincerely yours.

    • Judy says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I checked your references on Edward Hughes and while this seems like a good possibility, I’m not fully convinced it’s the same person. I emailed the company to ask.
      It really doesn’t matter to me if he does or does not exist. I still love the story.

      What I would really like to know is what it is you disagree with in my analysis of the book. You’ll notice that my preference is for concept maps (more structural and logical where mind maps are more about a flow of ideas.) I also prefer far more freedom in rules for creating these maps. Judy

      • Judy says:

        UPDATE: Thanks to Clem63France, I checked the website above but found no mention of Mind Maps or Tony Buzan leaving me unconvinced. I emailed this Edward Hughes and got a response that he really is the Edward Hughes described by Tony Buzan. So a big thank you to Clem63France for sharing this information. I will reflect further on this experience in a blog. Judy

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