Taking Notes: The Cornell Method

Lecture notes are an essential part of a successful school career, whether it is high school or university level.It is important that notes are well organized and easy to read.One way of creating perfect lecture notes is to use the Cornell method.  This is an excerpt from our eBook – Effective Study Skills.

The first step to using the Cornell method is to divide your paper into three sections.Approximately 2 inches from the bottom of your paper, draw a horizontal line all the way across the page.Approximately 2.5 inches from the left side of your paper, draw a vertical line from the top to the horizontal line you have just drawn.On standard paper, this will give you a 2.5 x 9-inch section on the left, a 6 x 9-inch section on the right, and 2 x 8.5-inch section at the bottom. It is important that you create all three sections because each section has its own purpose in the Cornell method.  Here is an example from Buck’s University

Once you have divided your paper into three sections, you are ready to take notes.The 6 x 9-inch section is your note-taking section.This is where you begin the 6 R’s of note-taking.

1. Record – During the lecture, record your notes in the note-taking section.The idea is not to write down every single word of the lecture, but to capture the main points.Grammar, punctuation and spelling are not vital, as long as you can read your notes later.You may want to develop your own shorthand or abbreviation method for your notes.Just be sure you can remember and understand them once you’ve left the classroom.

2. Reduce – After the lecture, reduce your notes to main keywords.These are cues to help you remember the information, and they are written in the 2.5-inch section to the left of the notes.The cue section is also a good place to note any questions that you have as you go over your notes.

3. Recapitulate – Recapitulate is a fancy word for summarize.The summary of your notes goes in the 2-inch space at the bottom of the page.Summarize each page of notes at the bottom of that page.You can also summarize the entire lecture on the last page of the notes for that lecture.Most lists place recapitulation as the last step in the 6 R’s, but it is best to write your summary after you write your cues in the left-hand column.Writing it immediately ensures that the information is still fresh in your mind, which helps you create a more accurate summary.

4. Recite – Recite the information.Actually saying it out loud can help to reinforce the learning process.Ideally, you can cover up the note-taking section and use the cue section to jog your memory when reciting.

5. Reflect – Think about your notes and the information that you have just learned.Consider how the information can be applied, and how it fits with what you already know.Figure out the significance of the information, and why knowing it is important.

6. Review – Review your notes frequently to keep from forgetting the information.If you set aside time several days each week to review and recite your notes, you will not have to worry about an all-night cram session before the exam.

For those who hate trying to remember to divide the paper into sections, a PDF generator is available that creates printable PDF files with pages divided into the correct sections.There are also Cornell templates available for those who use Microsoft Word for their notes.

This is an excerpt from our eBook – Effective Study Skills.

Cornell Notes PDF Generator

Cornell Notes Template



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