Concept mapping: A powerful tool for note-taking

You may have used a concept map in a class project, or to take notes  but are you using this tool to its full potential?

Concept mapping can help you develop knowledge structures, assess your understanding of content and review for exams.

Daniel Levitin, a famous cognitive psychologist, said, “In a world awash with information, the ability to synthesize and map concepts is the compass that guides us through the sea of knowledge.”

Concept maps were developed by Joseph Novak at Cornell University in 1984. They’re a visual organization technique to understand concepts and improve thinking. It usually has two main components: nodes representing concepts and links showing relationships among concepts.

In the following image, topics, subtopics, and details are the nodes; the lines between them are the links.

Example of a concept map for lecture notes.

Example of a concept map for lecture notes: The top node is labelled with the lecture topic. The lecture topic node is connected by lines to three other nodes that are labelled with lecture subtopics. Each lecture subtopic is connected by lines to three additional nodes for subtopic details.

How it works

Activate prior knowledge

By writing down concepts that are related to a major topic, you go through the process of recalling and refreshing information that you learned previously. This activates your long-term memory and uses visuals to represent connections between prior knowledge and new information.

Enhance conceptual understanding

Along with writing down concepts, you can relate to specific examples and explanations and add them to the concept map. Think of how to apply the concepts in different contexts and put those ideas onto the map. Altogether, you will develop an in-depth understanding of the concept.

Foster memory of knowledge structure

Do you find it easier to memorize when you have visuals? That is because visuals can reduce your cognitive load of processing information.

Drawing lines to link ideas will help you chunk information based on meaningful connections. Therefore, you are creating a diagram of knowledge structure to help you remember the content.

How to use a concept map 

  1. Write down a main topic and related subtopics or major concepts around it 

  2. Link the topic and subtopic/concepts by thinking about the relation between them and how they inform and interact with each other (HINT: It’s easier to map concepts from general to more specific ideas)

  3. Expand the map by connecting concepts with examples, explanations and other related  resources

  4. Revise connections and be flexible with building new links between concepts as you learn more 

Concept mapping can be used to take organized notes during lectures. It can also be used while you’re studying to help you build logic and internal relations.

Find concept mapping useful? Download the concept map worksheet and draw your own map.