- The Cornell notetaking method is a system for writing, organizing, and then reviewing notes. It was invented by former Cornell University Professor Walter Paul in the 1950s.
- The Cornell notetaking method takes advantage of the fact that handwritten notes are a better way to retain and understand information than notes taken on a device.
- The Cornell notetaking method involves a sheet of paper divided into two columns and three rows. The smaller column contains question-based prompts that later become self-examination questions, while the column adjacent contains the notes themselves. On the bottom is a summary of the information in one or two sentences.
Understanding the Cornell notetaking method
The Cornell note-taking method is a system for writing, organizing, and then reviewing notes.
The Cornell note-taking method was invented by former Cornell University Professor Walter Paul in the 1950s. The method, which was initially used to take notes in lectures, can also be used by businesspeople during client interactions.
The ability to take effective notes is a skill that must be developed. Some studies have shown that students who took their own notes outperformed those who were given notes by the instructor.
Despite the preference for tech-based notetaking today, research has also found that taking notes by hand remains a more efficient way to conceptualize or remember information.
The Cornell method takes advantage of this fact, requiring individuals to hand-write notes on a sheet of paper divided into various segments. This process is explained in more detail below.
The five steps of the Cornell notetaking method
The Cornell notetaking method is relatively easy to perform. Simply follow these three steps.
Step 1 – Prepare the sheet of paper and take notes
Prepare the sheet of paper by dividing it into three segments:
- The review/self-test column – start with a column on the left-hand side around 7 cm wide. This is the column where cues, hints, phrases, or prompts are written (usually in the form of questions) to test your understanding of the material.
- The note-taking column – on the right-hand side is the note-taking column where you write your notes as usual. This includes questions and answers, diagrams, formulas, and any relevant or useful comments.
- The summary row – at the bottom of the sheet of paper occupying its full width is the space where you summarize the information in one or two sentences. The summary section can also describe information that needs further clarification.
Step 2 – Test yourself
Once you have completed the review column, note-taking column, and summary row, obscure the column where you recorded your notes.
Then, use the question-based cues, hints, and prompts to review the information and test your level of comprehension.
Questions about concepts you didn’t understand completely can be put to the instructor or otherwise at the next session or meeting.
Step 3 – Rehearse the information
The notes should be reviewed several times a week to ensure the information is retained. Ten minutes should suffice in most cases.
During this time, some useful reflection questions include:
- What is the significance of the learned information?
- How can I use facts to the organization’s advantage?
- How does the information fit into the context of what I already know?
- What principles are the facts based on?
- What is still beyond my level of comprehension?