5 steps to improve your notes with the Cornell method

What’s the Cornell note-taking method? 

The Cornell note-taking method is a system for taking and organizing notes before, during and after the lecture. With three separate and clear sections, it is easy to keep your notes organized for preview and review

Using the Cornell method can help you:  

  • think critically about the learning content by raising questions,  

  • stay focused during the lecture for active listening, and  

  • synthesize the learning content and your own ideas. 

Getting started with the Cornell method 

  1. Divide the sheets of your notebook into three sections: a cue section on the left, a note section on the right, and a summary section at the bottom.

    Lecture topic, date, course code and lecturer at the top with sections for before the lecture, during the lecture and after the lecture

  2. Before the lecture, use the cues section to write down the main ideas and themes from your reading materials to build an overview of the learning content. You can also record questions in the cues section to help you concentrate on listening to the lecture to find answers. The cue section is a good spot to jot down related concepts to make connections with your previous knowledge of this topic.  

  3. During the lecture, use the notes section to record key ideas from the lecture, including new concepts, relevant examples, and other important sources. Though the more important ideas you jot down the more chances you will remember the information, you should avoid taking notes verbatim. Taking notes word by word may leave you no time to think about the content. Instead, pay attention to signposts and filter the important information. (Tip: Refer to signposts to listen to in class (PDF) to develop this skill) 

  4. After the lecture, use the summary section to conclude the top-level main ideas and quick references you can relate to. A summary will make it easy when you review the notes, especially when you need to find a topic quickly. 

  5. Refer to the questions you added to the cues and notes sections and write down the answers if you can. If you still have questions, make sure you figure them out by asking your professor, teaching assistant, or classmates for support.

Ready to take Cornell notes? Download the Cornell method worksheet (PDF) and try it out!