What Is Cornell Note Taking System And How To Use It

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The Cornell Note Taking System is a popular method for organizing and effectively absorbing information during lectures, meetings, or while studying. Developed by Walter Pauk at Cornell University in the 1940s, this systematic approach provides a structured framework to capture key ideas, summarize content, and review material efficiently.

By incorporating the principles of active learning and visual organization, the Cornell Note Taking System helps students and professionals engage with their subject matter more deeply, enhancing retention and comprehension. This method is particularly beneficial for individuals who struggle with information overload or find it challenging to prioritize and review study materials.

In this article, we will explore what the Cornell Note Taking System entails and how you can use it to optimize your note-taking process. Whether you’re a student aiming to improve study habits or a professional seeking a more effective way to capture meeting minutes, this article will provide you with valuable insights and practical tips to make the most of this powerful note-taking system.

Inside This Article

  1. What Is Cornell Note Taking System?
  2. Advantages of Cornell Note Taking System
  3. How to Set Up Cornell Notes
  4. Steps to Use Cornell Note Taking System
  5. Conclusion
  6. FAQs

What Is Cornell Note Taking System?

The Cornell Note Taking System is a method of organizing and summarizing lecture or reading material. It was developed by Walter Pauk, an education professor at Cornell University, hence the name. This system is widely used by students and professionals to effectively capture, review, and retain important information.

The key principle of the Cornell Note Taking System is to divide the page into three distinct sections: the cue column, the notes column, and the summary section. This structured approach helps users organize information, identify key points, and facilitate active recall during studying or reviewing.

In the cue column, you write down questions, main keywords, or cues that will prompt your memory when studying or reviewing your notes. This section acts as a roadmap for your understanding of the material.

The notes column is where you write down the main ideas, supporting details, and any additional information from the lecture or reading. This section should be concise and should capture the most important information.

The summary section is located at the bottom of the page and is used to summarize and synthesize the main points of the lecture or reading material. This section provides a concise overview of the entire page.

The Cornell Note Taking System encourages active engagement with the material, promotes critical thinking, and enhances long-term retention of information. By organizing information into a clear and structured format, students can more effectively review and study their notes.

Overall, the Cornell Note Taking System is a powerful tool for improving academic performance and information retention. It can be used in various settings, including classrooms, meetings, or personal study sessions to enhance learning and comprehension.

Advantages of Cornell Note Taking System

The Cornell Note Taking System is a widely recognized and popular method of organizing and reviewing lecture or textbook notes. This system offers several advantages that can significantly enhance your learning experience and improve your overall academic performance.

1. Clear Organization: One of the key advantages of the Cornell Note Taking System is its structured organization. The page is divided into three sections: a large section for taking detailed notes, a smaller section for summarizing key points, and a section at the bottom for writing questions or comments. This clear layout makes it easy to locate specific information when reviewing your notes.

2. Active Engagement: The Cornell method promotes active engagement during note-taking. By summarizing key points and formulating questions, you are actively processing and evaluating the information being presented. This involvement enhances your understanding and retention of the material.

3. Effective Review: The Cornell Note Taking System provides a structured format for reviewing your notes. The summary section allows you to quickly revisit the main ideas and concepts, making it easier to consolidate your understanding. Additionally, the questions and comments section acts as a prompt for further exploration or clarification.

4. Efficient Studying: Due to its organized layout, the Cornell method facilitates efficient studying. The notes are already categorized and condensed, saving you time when revisiting and reviewing the material. This system eliminates the need to go through lengthy and disorganized notes, allowing you to focus on the most critical information.

5. Enhanced Retention: The act of actively engaging with the material and reviewing the summarized key points in the Cornell Note Taking System improves long-term retention. By repeatedly accessing and reinforcing the information, you solidify your understanding and increase the chances of retaining the knowledge for exams or future reference.

6. Customizable and Flexible: The beauty of the Cornell Note Taking System is its adaptability to individual preferences and learning styles. You can modify the system to suit your needs by adding diagrams, illustrations, or color-coding techniques. This flexibility allows you to personalize the note-taking process and make it more engaging and effective for you.

Overall, the Cornell Note Taking System is a powerful tool that can revolutionize your approach to note-taking and studying. Its clear organization, active engagement, effective review, efficient studying, enhanced retention, and customization options make it a popular choice among students and professionals alike. Give this method a try and experience the benefits firsthand!

How to Set Up Cornell Notes

Setting up Cornell Notes is a simple and effective way to organize your study materials and improve your note-taking skills. Here are the steps to take in order to set up Cornell Notes:

  1. Create a Header: Start by creating a header at the top of your paper. This should include the title of the lecture, class, or topic, as well as the date and any other relevant information.
  2. Draw a Line: Draw a horizontal line a few inches from the bottom of the page. This line will divide your paper into two sections: the main note-taking section on the right and the summary section on the left.
  3. Take Main Notes: During the lecture or while reading, take your main notes in the right section of the page. Write down key points, important information, and any supporting details. Use abbreviations or symbols to save time and space.
  4. Add Cues: After the lecture or reading is complete, review your main notes and add cue words or questions in the left section of the page. These cues will serve as prompts to help you recall the information later when studying.
  5. Summarize: Once you have added cues, take a few minutes to summarize the main points of the lecture or reading in the space provided on the left section. This summary should be concise and include the most important information.
  6. Review and Study: When it’s time to review your notes, cover up the right section (main notes) and use the cues and summary on the left section to test your knowledge. This process of active recall helps reinforce the information in your memory.

By following these steps, you can effectively set up and utilize the Cornell Notes system for your study materials. Remember to be consistent in using this method, as it will help you organize information, retain knowledge, and ultimately enhance your overall understanding of the subject matter.

Steps to Use Cornell Note Taking System

The Cornell Note Taking System is a widely used method for organizing and reviewing your notes. Here are the steps to effectively utilize this system:

1. Divide your paper: Start by drawing a vertical line about two inches from the left edge of your paper. This line will create a narrow left-hand column and a wider right-hand column. The left-hand column is where you’ll write your main headings or key points, while the right-hand column is where you’ll jot down supporting details or additional information.

2. Take notes: During class lectures or while reading, write your notes in the right-hand column. Be sure to focus on the most important details, such as key concepts, examples, and explanations. Use abbreviations and symbols to save time and keep your notes concise.

3. Summarize your notes: After you’re done with a lecture or reading session, take a few minutes to summarize the main points of your notes. Write a brief summary at the bottom of the page or in a separate section. This summary will help you review and reinforce your understanding of the material.

4. Review and revise: Regularly review your notes, paying specific attention to the main headings and key points in the left-hand column. Use this section to quickly scan and recall the main ideas. While reviewing, you can also add additional notes, questions, or ideas in the right-hand column to further enhance your understanding.

5. Create a cue column: On the left-hand side of the page, create a narrow column called the cue column. This section will serve as a prompt for you to quiz yourself or stimulate recall during the review process. Write down questions, keywords, or prompts that will help you remember the information in the right-hand column.

6. Review and self-test: As part of your study routine, review and quiz yourself using the cue column. Cover the right-hand column and try to recall the information based on the cues in the left-hand column. This active recall technique can improve your long-term retention and understanding of the material.

7. Reflect and integrate: Take some time to reflect on the material and make connections between different concepts or topics. This step will deepen your understanding and help you see the bigger picture. Consider how the new information relates to what you already know and how it fits into the overall context.

8. Use the Cornell Note Taking System consistently: To reap the maximum benefits of this system, practice using it consistently. Make it a habit to take Cornell-style notes in all of your classes or study sessions. Over time, you’ll become more proficient in organizing and comprehending your notes.

Remember, the Cornell Note Taking System is not a rigid formula. Feel free to adapt and modify it to fit your own learning style and preferences. Experiment with different formats, colors, or additional sections to make it even more effective for you.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to take organized and comprehensive notes that will help you retain and recall information more effectively.


In conclusion, the Cornell Note Taking System is a highly effective method for organizing and retaining information. By dividing your notes into two sections, you can easily identify key concepts and reinforce your understanding of the material. The system’s emphasis on active learning, concise summaries, and review strategies make it a valuable tool for students, professionals, and lifelong learners.

Remember to always use the designated space for questions, keywords, and important points to enhance your understanding and make the most of your note-taking experience. By engaging with the material in a structured and strategic manner, you can improve your retention, comprehension, and overall academic performance.

Whether you’re attending lectures, conducting research, or studying for exams, the Cornell Note Taking System offers a practical and adaptable approach to gathering and reviewing information. Implement this system into your study routine and watch as your productivity and understanding increase. Make Cornell Note Taking your go-to method for capturing and retaining knowledge.


1. What is the Cornell Note Taking System?

The Cornell Note Taking System is a highly effective method of organizing and reviewing lecture or reading notes. It was developed by Walter Pauk, an education specialist at Cornell University, and it aims to help students become more engaged, organized, and efficient in their note-taking process.

2. How does the Cornell Note Taking System work?

The Cornell Note Taking System revolves around a three-part note layout. Students divide their paper into three sections: the main notes section, the cue column, and the summary section. The main notes section is where the student takes detailed notes during a lecture or while reading. The cue column is reserved for jotting down questions, keywords, or main ideas related to the notes. Finally, the summary section is used to summarize the main points discussed in the notes.

3. What are the benefits of using the Cornell Note Taking System?

The Cornell Note Taking System offers several benefits to students. Firstly, it encourages active learning by allowing students to engage with the material as they take notes. Additionally, it promotes organization and easy reviewing of notes by separating key ideas and summaries from the main content. It also enhances retention and comprehension of information by involving the student in the note-taking process. Overall, the system helps students study more effectively and improve their academic performance.

4. How can I effectively use the Cornell Note Taking System?

To make the most out of the Cornell Note Taking System, follow these tips:

  • Listen actively during lectures or read the material carefully, focusing on key concepts and main ideas.
  • Take detailed notes in the main section, using abbreviations and symbols for efficiency.
  • Use the cue column to record questions, keywords, or prompts that will help trigger your memory during review sessions.
  • After the lecture or reading, use the summary section to write a concise and comprehensive summary of the main points.
  • Regularly review and revise your notes to reinforce the information and identify any gaps in your understanding.

5. Can I use the Cornell Note Taking System for digital note-taking?

Yes! The Cornell Note Taking System can be adapted for digital note-taking. Various note-taking applications and software offer templates that replicate the layout of the Cornell system. These tools allow you to easily divide your screen into the main notes section, cue column, and summary section. Alternatively, you can create your own digital template using a word processor or note-taking app. Just make sure to maintain the same organization and structure as the original Cornell system.