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 creations 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 and working out at a gym.
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 the 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 be only one word per line. For “Supreme Court” you would write “Court’, and 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. While he’s probably correct about images and color making Mind Maps more memorable, I rarely use either images and only occasionally use color.
In this book, the 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, more creative person and he frequently uses Mind Maps 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 much-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 Mind Maps 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 is best to use more appropriate Visual Organizers.
When covering a lot of detailed information, I’d recommend an outline.
For comparing related material, a Compare/Contrast chart is best.
For studying events over time, 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 possible that the story was true but Buzan changed the 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.
But, as far as I’m concerned, even if Edward never existed, the story is true. It is quite possible for a highly motivated mediocre student to discover new learning strategies and become a top student. For this sort of miracle, however, you would need to be extremely intelligent and you would need to be very highly motivated to make this sort of major change.
There are two more lessons to be learned from this story.
1. If you, like Edward, decide to make huge, detailed maps of the subjects you are studying, you will have a problem. They all start to look alike. For better learning, you should use a variety of different visual organizers. If you use what I call Concept Maps, try to create them in different shapes. Use circles in one and squares in another.
2. The second point is far more important. This one took me years to recognize.
It was NOT the Mind Maps that made the difference.
A Mind Map or Concept Map helps you visualize the structure and main ideas. For the content of an entire book, it would be unmanageable. It would have made more sense if he had used Mind Maps for each chapter. An Outline would work better to show a lot of detail. The real secrets behind the success of Edward Hughes were
A. He made the decision to learn, and was highly motivated. He went back over all books and class notes and organized years of information.
B. He improved his physical fitness, making it easier for him to learn.
C. He didn’t just re-read his Mind Maps, he tested himself by drawing them by memory over and over.
D. He used Scheduled Reviews.
You could do the very same thing with simple outlines . You would need to create many excellent, detailed outlines. You would need to study them several times the first day, once or twice the next day, then daily for the rest of the week, etc. You would need to try over and over to rewrite the outlines, comparing your efforts with the originals until you had them memorized. If you followed that system for each of your classes, you, too, should be at the top of your class.
To read about Concept Maps