Cornell Note Taking System – Simple But Effective

13 May

cornell_diagThis weekend I had the chance to see my nephew, Jason, who graduates from high school in a few weeks and then immediately heads for college in a special summer program. In the course of our conversation we talked about some of the differences between high school and college and the different skills you need to develop for the larger work load. I asked him if he had ever heard of the Cornell Note Taking system; something I only learned about a few years ago but wish I had known about it while I was in college. It was not a surprise to me that he had never heard of it.

The system is fairly simple and can be used with regular notebook paper, though I will show you a link below that will allow you to print your own paper specifically for this purpose. On the top of the page is a place for your name, the subject and the date. At the bottom is a space for summary notes and particularly important features. In between are lines for writing notes, those this part of the page is divided by a vertical line about a thrid of the way over from the left hand side.

The idea is to write your notes in the larger part of the main section. Like all notes they should be somewhat crytpic, catching only the high points and significant details. The difference comes after the notes are taken. As soon after the lecture as possible, you should review your notes, writing questions in the smaller section just to the left of your main notes that are answered by the details in the notes themselves. This is your first review and again, as has been said before, it is important to try to do this as soon after you make the notes as possible.

For future review, you take a blank piece of paper and cover the main note section. Then you look at the questions you have written on the left and see if you can answer them, pulling the paper aside briefly to see if you are correct. You now have a very easy to use system for self study and practice testing to see what areas still need attention. Simple and very effective.

I have been able to purchase legal pads at the local office supply house that are already set up as I have described. Their are also online source for purchasing pre-printed pads, though they tend to be pricey. ( However, there is also a program online where you can print custom sheets, with features like putting your name and class at the top of the sheet and determining the spacing of the lines. ( I like to use pre-drilled paper so that the pages can be put into notebooks once they are written and organized by topic.

To me, this is one of those ultra simple systems that just works. My wife is a university professor and she says that a lot of her students like to bring their laptops to class and take notes on their keyboards. That is something I would have like when I was in school, though there is a lot of evidence that handwriting notes helps you remember better. Handwriting notes and typing them engage very different parts of the brain. As a result, one is simply much better at helping you get the information into your long-term memory. Of course, typed notes are better than no notes, but side by side, the handwritten notes will outperform those that are typed.

My wife, a university professor, complained the other day that many of her students are asking for her Power Point presentations ahead of time. They want to have the presentations up on their screens as the lecture is given so that they can type notes into the appropriate section. That works fine for some classes where teachers are willing to post these presentations, but many, like my wife, are not. Some of the students are not happy that she is unwilling to share her presentations, but she has good reasons for choosing not to and is not going ot change her mind.

However, why should a students note-taking be contingent on the teacher does? Does it not make sense to have a system that allows you to make notes regardless of what your teacher supplies?

That is exactly what the Cornell System does; it supplies you with a very handy tool that can be used anywhere you have paper and pen. As I have said, this is a tool I wish I had when I was in college, and that in spite of the fact that I thought I was an exceptionally good note taker.

Take a note from my page, Jason, and do a great job!

1 Comment

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


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One response to “Cornell Note Taking System – Simple But Effective

  1. jamesrevelsthecomposer

    May 13, 2013 at 3:25 am

    thinking about employing this in my music theory note taking process


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