Cornell Note Taking System

In my lecture notes post reader Ryan posted a comment on the usefulness of the cornell note taking system with a link to TheFlyerMan’s notebook page generator. This reminded me of a post I had intended to write about both these things. I too use the cornell method and the page layout generator (found here).

The Theory

For the uninitiated the cornell note taking method is just a way of organising your notes by dividing up your page. You rule a 2.5 inch (6.25 cm) margin down the left-hand side of your page and a 2 inch (5 cm) margin at the bottom of the page. This makes the page look something like this:

————————– [You'll have to excuse the bad text "image". I'm trying to cater

|     |                        | for those on dial-up and other slow internets and I'm also

|     |                        | having trouble inserting images into blog posts - I'm sure

|     |                        | I'm doing it all right but for some reason it's just not

|-------------------------| working]
—————————

When you’ve got your page set up like that then, according to the letter of the system, after your lecture you go through and put your key words, things to note, questions and other important points/summaries in the left hand column (“cue column”) and summaries of what the page says in the bottom section. The website of the West Shore Community College has a good pdf document covering this and lots of other study skills – it’s worth a download and can be accessed from a link on this page.

My “Hack”

Now that you know the theory, I’ll let you know what I do. I use the traditional note taking layout except that I print the lines onto lined paper (the kind that goes in ring-binders) and because the paper is thin I print the cue column on the left hand side on the front of the page and the right on the back so that the line matches up (otherwise the line shows through the paper – petty, yes, but it bothers me).

I use the cue column pretty much how it’s supposed to be used (although I have a habit of filling it out in the lecture rather than after – not a great technique but better than not filling it out at all) but the summaries row I use differently. Personally I find that it’s not that useful to summarise the contents of one page since often information goes across multiple pages. Being a law student we get lots (and lots, and lots…) of cases and statutes and in the bottom row I will write the names of all the cases which are first mentioned on that page and a summary of why I need to know about it (that means each case is only in one summary row per lecture). This might look something like this:

Donoghue v Stevenson – fundamental case in tort-law. Outlines new test for negligence – is there a duty of care? Is it reasonably foreseeable that harm would occur from the defendant’s conduct?

(Note: I’m going from memory for that so don’t take that as a reasonable summary of that case if you happen to be studying it). I also do a similar thing for statutes and sections in statutes. This means that when I’m going back through my notes I can quickly see which cases were covered and the key points the lecturer thinks I should know (which are sometimes different from the key points got from the reading). You might like to put names of theorists and their theories, equations or key terms in your summaries row. Write a comment if you’ve got a good “hack” for the cornell note taking system or if you know of another good system which works well for you.

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8 Comments on “Cornell Note Taking System”


  1. Interesting. I’ve never heard of the Cornell system before.

  2. ducly Says:

    this is a fantastic tip.
    I’ve printed out the pdf page and added my name and company to the sheet which can be use in meeting notes or diary. How do I remove the dates?


  3. [...] this is a fantastic tip. I’ve printed out the pdf page and added my name and company to the sheet which can be use in meeting notes or diary. How do I remove the dates?  [...]

  4. Shawheen Yazdani Says:

    pleae send me a layout of this cornello noets.


  5. http://snow413.info ass parade
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  6. Jef Martens Says:

    Please check out http://www.artens.nl/cnts for examples in PDF format and an icon referencing system. Also additional 5R technique issues about the Cornell Note Taking System are explained.

  7. Freaky woman Says:

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge about this. Much appreciated.

  8. Joseph Says:

    Good information. Lucky me I ran across your website by chance (stumbleupon).
    I have book marked it for later!


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