Thursday 27 April 2017

Forget Google – how to doodle your way to exam success

Patrick Hunt

HAVE YOU ever sat in an exam hall desperately seeking ideas, clutching at half-remembered facts, or trying to marshal the jumble of details churning in your brain?

Your mind seems to be surfing a topic rather than providing hard, practical information. Yes, you know the feeling.

Perhaps frustration forces you to scribble or doodle on the blank page, but you would rather Google the key terms of the exam question to obtain relevant and related facts.

But doodling is precisely what you should be doing – i.e. creating a mind map, a web of key words or phrases, most of which you have prepared in advance of the examination.

Such constructive doodling is also a useful approach to brainstorming ideas for compositions and other essay formats.

A mind map (or mind web) is similar in some respects to the way the worldwide web works. A web engine communicates, accesses, connects and organises information in response to instructions. An effective student practises making mind maps or webs of key words or phrases that can be retrieved, selected, adapted, organised, related and interpreted to suit the demands of a specific exam question.

Example: Map 1

Preparation of a personal response to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh, for example, could include a mind map that contains a precise, encapsulated visual guide to the poet’s work.

This mind map is created and memorised in advance, and at an exam such a guide can be drawn in less than a minute on a rough work sheet of paper.

The visual dimension is important. Aristotle (the Greek philosopher) observed: ‘The soul never thinks without a picture’.

Ideas, concepts and information presented in simple graphics can be easier to learn and to recall. A set of hand-drawn directions to a friend’s house is a lot more useful than standing at a street corner struggling to remember whether to turn left or right.

Example: Map 2

Use a second mind map to work out the structure of your answer. Allow plenty of space for the diagram. Avoid clutter.

Key words should now be even fewer and more relevant to the set question, and every word/phrase should be the basis of a paragraph in the eventual answer. These key words or phrases will be the pegs on which you hang your ideas.

Number each point, but use a pencil to facilitate word or number changes that won’t confuse or distract. The mind map strategy sharpens focus, sets out requirements, and maximises the use of time. This two-step process should be completed in about six minutes.

This method should be an integral part of personal study, written homework, and should be a feature of all answers at the imminent mock exams. The people who set examinations allow time for student thinking and planning.

The great Roman orator Cicero wrote: ‘Before beginning, plan carefully.’ Remember the carpenter's rule: Measure twice, cut once.

Pre-exam mind mapping

The mind map drawn at an examination will be a shorter version of the more elaborate format prepared for study and revision purposes.

A full mind map (e.g. spray diagram, tree branches, web) is drawn not just to identify key points, but also to make connections between concepts and ideas. This design presents topics in a format that makes for handy review and revision.

Use branches, arrows, and other symbols to indicate the connections or relationships between ideas. Use different colours or lines to group and distinguish concepts.


Definitions/quotations/equations/ rules/formulae can be inserted in boxes at the edges of the mind map.

Mapping is an active learning technique that moves you beyond parrot-like memorisation to critical thinking. In some school subjects it requires that you break down component parts to see how a thesis or an argument is put together. The technique can also be used to show causes and effects.

The most effective way to make mind maps varies from subject to subject, so take the advice of specific subject teachers.

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