Do It Right the First Time with Cornell Notes

Today, we’re starting a new series, about note taking methods. And which better to start off with than the Cornell system?

Image copyright Lifehacker

If you haven’t heard of Cornell before, then you’re probably wondering why we should start with it. It’s because the Cornell system has a do-it-right-the-first-time attitude. Very fitting for the first post in the series, don’t you think? This is a very short series, so in the following weeks, we’re going to talk about mind mapping, and outlining for note taking. We’ve already discussed these in terms of brainstorming, but I think that they are slightly different when the content’s being spouted at you like a sprinkler: you don’t know where it’s all going.

I just told you that it works with a do-it-right-the-first-time mindset, but what does this really mean? Well, a lot of other methods require you to rewrite your notes afterwards, because they’re messy, unorganised, or hard to study with. The Cornell system thinks this is wrong, and offers you a way to fix it.

Setting up your page to take Cornell-style notes is as simple as one-two-three.

  1. Title. How are you going to know what the notes are about without a title? You might also want to put the date, in case your notes get scrambled.
  2. Cue Column. Set aside about 1/4 of your page, on either side, for your cues. I’ll explain these in a second.
  3. Summary Box. Mark out a couple of inches at the bottom of your page, and at the end of class, write a summary.

You should now have a blank section in the middle. This is for your actual notes. You didn’t think I’d miss that out did you? Just take notes like you normally would, using different coloured pens, sticky notes, diagrams, whatever you please.

After class, you can fill in the remaining two boxes.

In the cue column, write phrases, ask questions and draw pictures to help you remember the corresponding notes. When you come to study these later, just cover the notes section, and see if you can remember what was there by looking in the cue column.

The summary box does just what you think. It’s really just a simple way to find the notes you’re looking for, and study the right page. Make sure you’re concise, because there really isn’t a lot of room in there.

If you’re looking for more, be sure to check out LifeHacker’s in-depth article.


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About Katie Walker

Hey, I'm a student. I'm into web development, so currently I'm working on my blog, a few Tumblr themes, and a few web apps for various purposes. It's exciting stuff.

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