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Cornell Note-Taking

What is the Cornell Note-Taking Method?

The Cornell Note-Taking Method is a structured approach to organising your notes in a way that enhances comprehension and retention. It was developed by Dr. Walter Pauk, an education professor at Cornell University (hence the name). The method involves dividing your note page into specific sections to create a neat and organised layout. By using this technique, you'll have a powerful system that not only captures essential information but also aids in effective review and revision.

Here's a nice video summarising the method.

Source: Learning Strategies Center Cornell (YouTube)

How Does it Work?

When you start taking notes using the Cornell method, divide your paper into three sections: the cue/key ideas column on the left, the notes column on the right, and the summary section at the bottom. The cue/key ideas column will be the smallest, about 2.5 inches wide, while the notes column will take up the majority of the page. Here's a simple blank template I made for my own lessons, which you can download below.

Cornell Notes Template
Download PDF • 22KB

During a lesson, reading, or any learning activity, jot down the main ideas, keywords, and essential points in the notes column. Keep it concise and organised. No need to write every single word; focus on the meaty stuff!

The magic happens in the cue/key ideas column. Here's where you create questions or cues, or pull out keywords based on the notes you took. These questions and keywords prompt your memory and encourage active recall during review sessions.


Once you've finished taking notes, don't forget the summary section at the bottom. This space is for summarising the entire page of notes into a few key sentences. It's like distilling the most crucial information for quick revision later.


Now, here's the secret sauce. Regularly review your notes and challenge yourself with the questions in the cue/key ideas column. Cover the notes section and see if you can recall the answers based solely on your cues. This practice reinforces learning and helps transfer information to long-term memory.

Examples in My Own Practice

As a physics teacher, I have found the Cornell Note-Taking Method to be very effective when teaching the content-heavy sections of a particular topic. For example, in the Advanced Higher Physics course, the Astrophysics topic involves learning about the life cycle of a star. There are lots of steps involved and theory to cover, but by getting the students to actively summarise the key information from the notes, they are more likely to remember it.

Towards the end of one lesson in which I covered the main theory about the evolution of stars, I asked my students to fill in the Title and Notes sections of the template. At the start of the following lesson, I then tasked them with pulling out any key ideas, cues or questions that would help them revise the topic at a later stage (left-hand column). Some pupils opted for drawing diagrams, whilst others focused on keywords. I believe a combination of both (with colour) works really well. Students were then asked to complete the Summary section at the bottom of the page, condensing their notes into a few sentences. Some of them opted for a flowchart instead.

As you can see in the examples below, the finished product is personal to the individual student and should therefore act as an effective memory aid for the exam.

Practical Tips for Studying Using Concrete Examples

  1. Stay Organised: Keep a dedicated notebook or digital document for each subject or topic. Label them clearly and date your entries. This way, you'll have a comprehensive and easily accessible collection of notes for exam prep.

  2. Be an Active Listener: During lessons or reading sessions, engage with the material actively. Listen for main ideas, important concepts, and any cues from the teacher or text that might be helpful for your notes.

  3. Use Visual Aids: Don't be afraid to incorporate diagrams, charts, and graphs into your notes. Visual representations can enhance understanding and make your notes more engaging.

  4. Review Regularly: Don't wait until the last minute to review your notes. Aim for regular review sessions – maybe 10 minutes at the end of each day – to reinforce your learning and stay on top of the material.

  5. Personalise Your Cues: Make the cue/key ideas column your own by framing questions in a way that resonates with you. Use your own words and add mnemonics or acronyms if they help you remember better.


Remember, the Cornell Note-Taking Method is not just about scribbling things down; it's about creating a strong foundation for effective learning. By actively engaging with your notes through regular revision sessions and asking yourself questions, you'll not only retain information better but also boost your confidence and exam performance.

Source: Verbal to Visual (YouTube)


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