How to Use Cornell Note Taking

Formatting your pages before class facilitates Cornell notes.
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The Cornell Note-Taking System was developed to help students take notes more efficiently. Devised by Cornell University professor Walter Pauk, the system simplifies the acquisition and retention of information by having students break down their note pages into three distinct areas. By dividing the information instead of copying important points into one block of text, this method facilitates recall and summarizes major concepts, theories and practices for a given course.

Use standard size notebook paper. Measure 2.5 inches from the left side of the page. Draw a vertical line down the page to about 2 inches from the bottom. This is the column you'll use for developing cues to prompt your recall.

Draw a horizontal line at the 2-inch mark from the bottom of the page all the way to the end of the right side of the page. This space is known as your summary area used to condense key ideas. The remaining area, which is 6 inches wide and 9 inches deep, is where you'll actually record notes in class.

When taking notes, keep your sentences short, using your own system of shorthand so that you can more accurately record the information. Write down all material that is presented in a visual aid or on a blackboard. Focus your notes on major topics and subtopics and avoid writing every word your instructor says.

Review your notes after class and devise questions from the information you've written. These questions are intended to help you understand the material and can also be used as practice questions for future exams. Write these questions in the cues section of your notes.

Summarize the notes by writing a few sentences in the summary area at the bottom of each page of notes. Limit summaries to two or three sentences, encapsulating the material on the page of notes for quick reference. Don't parrot your instructor's words; employ your own knowledge of the material in the summary.

Test your recall by reviewing the cue section of your notes and answering the questions you have written. Don't look at the note-taking section when conducting your review.

Review your notes for a few minutes each week to keep your recall of information fresh, especially since you will be adding note pages for every lecture.

Sampson Quain is a screenwriter and filmmaker who began writing in 1996. He has sold feature and television scripts to a variety of studios and networks including Columbia, HBO, NBC, Paramount and Lionsgate. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.