How To Take Cornell Notes
Originally published in 2015; updated in October 2018
Form: Cornell Notes
Purpose: The purpose of Cornell Notes is to distill complex text, arguments, etc. into a format useful for reflection and study.
Sweet Spot: Grades 8-12, college
Background: According to Wikipedia, the system was developed in the 1950s by Walter Pauk, a Cornell University professor who shared the technique in his book “How to Study in College.”
How To Take Notes Through The Cornell Notes System
The student divides the paper into two columns: the note-taking column (usually on the right) is twice the size of the questions/keyword column (on the left). The student should leave five to seven lines, or about two inches (5 cm), at the bottom of the page.
Notes from a lecture or teaching are written in the note-taking column; notes usually consist of the main ideas of the text or lecture, and long ideas are paraphrased. Long sentences are avoided; symbols or abbreviations are used instead. To assist with future reviews, relevant questions (which should be recorded as soon as possible so that the lecture and questions will be fresh in the student’s mind) or keywords are written in the keyword column. These notes can be taken from any source of information, such as fiction books, DVDs, lectures, textbooks, etc.
It’s important to recite the information by covering the note-taking column (with a paper or folder, for example) and then looking at the questions or cue-words column, and saying the answers to the questions, ideas, or facts in your own words. Ask yourself questions while studying: “Why is this material significant?” “How can I apply this to the real-world?” Take the time to study your Cornell Notes, take at least 10 minutes each week and go over your notes. By studying a little bit each day or each week, you will have a greater success rate by retaining more information.
When reviewing the material, the student can cover the note-taking (right) column while attempting to answer the questions/keywords in the keyword or cue (left) column. The student is encouraged to reflect on the material and review the notes regularly.
How Taking Notes Is Changing
Note-taking is a lost art.
While recent trends–including multi-point touch screens, sketch notes, etc.–have given it a shot in the arm, the idea of encountering new information or experiences of some kind, distilling it for what’s important, then recording it for future reference doesn’t get much attention.
While there are many ways to take notes, Cornell Notes are among the most useful for pure academic study but they’re also a bit complicated. Simpler forms like combination notes are easy to explain and use, but lack the depth a form like the Cornell System has.
The video above does a very nice job of showing how to take a text and transfer it into the Cornell Notes format.
How To Take Cornell Notes