What is the Cornell Note Taking System?

The Cornell note taking system was invented in the 1950’s by Walter Pauk who was an education professor at Cornell University. This effective system for taking notes was made popular by Professor Pauk’s best selling book How To Study In College and is still being used by college students today. This book is still available if you are interested in reading the details about this effective note taking method and other study strategies.

The Cornell method of note-taking is done by dividing a page into 3 sections: Notes, Cues and a Summary section. Assuming you’re taking notes on an 8.5 x 11″ or A4 size page, create a column about 2″ wide on either the left or right hand side of the page for Cues. Leave about 2″ at the bottom of the page for a Summary section. The largest section is for Notes. At the top of each page write your name, date, topic and class.

The Notes section is used during class or while reading a book to take abbreviated notes and to copy any diagrams or charts the instructor may use. It’s a good idea to leave extra space between main points and topics so that other details can be filled in later and to allow you to read your notes easily.

The Cues should be written down soon after the class is over. Cues are used for review and study and can include such things as questions anticipated on an exam, main ideas/people, and vocabulary words.

The Summary at the bottom of the page is written after class and is used to help you find information later on. It is a brief summary of the notes on that page highlighting the main point(s).

Cornell Note-Taking Method
Cornell Note-Taking Method

Cornell University summarizes the method of using these notes most effectively this way:

  1. Record. Take brief notes during a lecture or while reading.
  2. Questions. As soon after class as possible, formulate questions based on the notes. The writing of questions is used to study for exams later.
  3. Recite. Cover the large note-taking section with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the questions or cue-words in the cue column only, say aloud, in your own words, the answers to the questions, facts, or ideas indicated by the cue-words.
  4. Reflect. Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions, for example: “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what Ialready know? What’s beyond them?
  5. Review. Spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous
    notes. If you do, you’ll retain a great deal for current use, as well as, for the exam.

Several universities & websites provide explanations on how to benefit from the Cornell note taking method – here are just a few:
Cornell University
Florida State University
University of Houston-Victoria
Life Hacker

If you want to try to improve your studying by using the Cornell Method of note-taking you can simply use a bold pen to divide pages in your notebook into 3 sections, you can print out your own Cornell paper by using an online PDF generator, or you can buy a nicely bound notebook with Cornell paper. Cornell notebooks currently available at Writer’s Bloc include:

Rhodia Classic Meeting Book – Large with Black Cover
Rhodia Classic Meeting Book – Large with Orange Cover
Rhodia Classic Meeting Book – Medium with Black Cover
Rhodia Classic Meeting Book – Medium with Orange Cover
Rhodiactive Meeting Book 90 – A4+ Large
Rhodia Business Collection Meeting Book 90 – Medium
Moleskine Professional Notebook – Extra Large, Black Hardcover
Moleskine Professional Notebook – Large, Black Hardcover

Have you ever used the Cornell note-taking method? What is your favorite notebook or paper for taking notes?

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8 Replies to “What is the Cornell Note Taking System?”

  1. I learned to use a note taking system simuliar to the Cornell System about 30 years ago. This organizing tool was in a notebook and pre-printed pages type kit we were given by my employer. A group of us working on special assignment received the ” hot, new and greatest meeting & note-taking tool ever”.
    This system was okay, but it seemed to lack something. Something that we couldn’t really identify! One of our older team members brought a notebook to work for the rest of us to look at one day. It was simple and unclutered compared to the quite expensive system we’d been given by our supervisor. Our elder team buddy said he had used it in college at the University of Houston. We all just put the kit that our c

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