The Cornell Note Taking System: A Comprehensive Guide for Effective Study

opened diary with pencil placed on desk
note taking

Every student understands the importance of comprehensive notes, but not all note-taking strategies are created equal. Enter the Cornell Note Taking System – a structured, systematic approach to capturing and reviewing class information. Developed by Walter Pauk at Cornell University, this method not only assists in note organisation but also enhances recall and comprehension.

Cornell Notes
The Cornell Notes system (also Cornell notetaking system, Cornell method, or Cornell way) is a notetaking system devised in the 1950s by Walter Pauk

Highlights of This Article:

  • Basics of the Cornell system.
  • Step-by-step guide on implementing the technique.
  • Tips for optimising your Cornell note taking.

Understanding the Cornell Layout

The Cornell Note Taking System breaks your page into three sections:

  1. Cues (on the left): This narrow column (around 2.5 inches) is reserved for keywords, questions, or prompts that summarise the main ideas of the notes.
  2. Notes (on the right): This is where you jot down the main lecture or reading information. It occupies the most space.
  3. Summary (at the bottom): After completing your notes, you’ll distill the page’s main ideas into a concise summary here.

Step-by-Step: Implementing the Cornell System

  1. Prepare Your Page: Divide a blank page into the three sections described above. Some students like to draw distinct lines, while others prefer a more free-form division.
  2. Take Main Notes: As your lecture or reading progresses, use the right-hand section to capture the essential details. Avoid verbatim transcription; instead, aim for shorthand and your own words.
  3. Add Cues: After class or at a natural pause, review your main notes. Then, populate the left-hand column with questions or keywords that encapsulate the primary topics. This column will serve as your guide for active recall.
  4. Summarize: Once your notes and cues are complete, take a moment to reflect on the main themes or lessons. Capture these in the summary section. This process will help reinforce the material and provide a quick review reference.

Tips for Mastering Cornell Note Taking For Students:

  • Be Selective: Avoid the trap of writing down everything. Focus on main ideas, relevant details, and anything the lecturer emphasizes.
  • Engage with Your Notes: Periodically, cover the right-hand section and quiz yourself using the left-hand cues. This will enhance memory retention.
  • Review Regularly: Make it a habit to revisit your notes. The combination of cues and the summary will facilitate quick, efficient reviews.
  • Customize: Adapt the system to your needs. Whether it’s incorporating color-coding or integrating diagrams, make the Cornell system your own.


The Cornell Notes System offers a structured approach to capturing and reviewing academic material. With its distinct layout and emphasis on active engagement, it’s a tool that can transform your study sessions. As with any technique, consistency is key. The more you use and adapt the Cornell system to your needs, the more effective it becomes. Here’s to more productive and insightful note-taking!

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The Cornell method provides a systematic format for condensing and organizing notes without laborious recopying. After writing the notes in the main space, use …