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How to effectively use the Cornell Note Taking Method

How to effectively use the Cornell Note Taking Method

4 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep

What is the most effective way for students to take notes in class?

One style of note taking has recently started gaining more and more attention: the Cornell Note Taking Method. This blog explores what it is, why it may help and how students can use it.

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How to use the Cornell note taking method effectively

What is the Cornell Note Taking Method?

To use the Cornell Note Taking method, students need to first divide their page into three or four sections. There can be an optional small section at the top of the page for the title, and there should be a similarly sized space at the bottom, where they can summarise their notes.

The rest of the page should be divided into two vertical columns, with the left-hand column taking up around 30% of the width and hence the right-hand column taking up the remaining 70%.

Having successfully divided their page, students can now use to the Cornell Note Taking method in class to:

Make notes

The right-hand and larger of the two columns should be used to take notes from the lesson. Students should ensure that these notes are concise and that they are not simply writing down exactly what their teachers says but instead summarising the most important concepts in their own words. This helps ensure that they are deeply thinking about the topic.


After each lesson or after the school day, students should summarise the key takeaways from each lecture in the row at the bottom of the page. This allows them to take another look at the material before they forget about it, and to engage with it more deeply by figuring out the most important pieces of information.

Ask questions

As soon as the lesson finishes, students should write questions surrounding the subject matter in the left-hand column. Writing questions is an important part of this strategy, as it forces students to really consider the information they have learnt.

Students should also use this column to record any important keywords or equations.


When revising, students can then cover the right-hand column and try to formulate answers to the questions and recall the subject matter related to the keywords/equations written in the left-hand column.

For maximum effect, students’ answers should be given aloud, rather than in their head, as this forces them to organise the information and make quick connections. Both of these things increase the likelihood of the material being successfully transferred to the long-term memory.


Students should take some time to reflect on the taught material using a technique known as self-questioning. Self-questioning is an important part of this process, as it helps students to focus on and interact with the material, leading to the formation of stronger connections, hence making the information more easily retrievable at a later date.

Examples of good questions students can ask themselves include: “Why does it make sense that…?” and “Why would this fact be true for X and not for Y?”.


Finally, students should be encouraged to take time each week to review their notes, as this helps to refresh and consolidate learnt information. Research has proven that if students want to really learn information, reviewing their notes a little but often is much more effective than reviewing a lot of information all at once.

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Why should students use the Cornell note taking method?

Improves academic performance

Recent research has shown that implementing the Cornell Note Taking method in the classroom helps students obtain higher grades. More specifically, class averages for courses in which this strategy had been implemented were 10-12% higher than they had been the previous term. Perhaps more strikingly, in a class in which the Cornell Note Taking method had been employed, all students passed the midterm, whereas the success rate of a class in which it had not been implemented was only 70%.

Active rather than passive learning

In one particular study, researchers looked to compare the effectiveness of three different note taking methods: Cornell Note Taking, outline note taking (the main ideas and sub-points are identified and written down) and verbatim note taking (writing down what the teachers says word for word).

The researchers found Cornell Note Taking to be the most effective strategy, whilst verbatim note taking was the poorest. The difference in the success of the Cornell and verbatim note taking methods can be attributed to the former being an active method of learning, whereas the latter is passive. When students write down word for word what a teacher says, they become fixated with this and do not pay adequate attention to the main points of the lesson, impairing encoding, whereas the Cornell Note Taking method forces students to consider taught information.

Gives students a structure to follow

Encouraging students to use the Cornell Note Taking method gives them a structure which they can use to organise their notes. This means that when they come to revise, they don’t have to spend valuable time searching for or re-writing information.

Furthermore, getting students to write relevant questions at the end of each lesson gives them a set of ready-made questions that they can use to test themselves when revising, a strategy that strengthens memory traces and increases the likelihood that information will be cemented in their long term memory.

Final thought

Recent research presents a strong case for getting students to use the Cornell Note Taking method. This simple yet effective method not only offers students a structure in which they can organise their notes but also a way of enhancing their learning. Overall, this seems to be an easy win for students to aid their academic achievement.

Do you want to find out more? This blog might be of interest: 8 ways to transform your note taking

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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