Cornell Note Taking – Study Tips

You’ve been revising wrong. So many of us – myself included at one point – believe that it’s enough to simply read a textbook, or highlight pages in a book. We make things look pretty and believe that, surely now, we’ll remember what we’ve learned – right?


You do that at the time and you get an adrenaline kick, thinking that you’ve learned the thing. However, when you return to that work days, weeks, months or maybe even years down the line, you’ll find it impossible to remember the thing.

Shoot, you’ll think, I can’t remember the thing.

That’s because you’re failing to take notes correctly in the first place. Only highlighting might feel as if you’re getting lots done but, in reality, you’re not really learning anything. An easy fix? Cornell Note-taking.

What are Cornell Notes?

Cornell Notes, first invented by Walter Paul, a professor for Cornell University in the States in the 1950s, separate a single piece of paper into three distinct spaces. The centre, comprising about ⅔ of a page, is for the main body of text. The idea is that you can read through this piece of text and highlight any keywords or phrases that you think are relevant or important to the work. 

The remaining third of the page is where you’ll rewrite those keywords. If you get bored of this method, mix it up by using this space to summarise each paragraph into about a sentence. However, if you stick to the traditional, tried-and-tested form of Cornell Notes, you might find the next section a little easier.

At the bottom of the page, you should leave a little room to write a sentence or two. This will be a summary of the entire piece, and should come from your keywords and connectives, like ‘and, so, because, but’, which tie them all together.

What makes Cornell Notes so useful?

There are so many reasons why Cornell Notes are far more useful than traditional note-taking. For starters, if you use this method for any extended reading and then return months later to revise for exams, you won’t have to re-read the long article. Instead, skim through your summary and move on. Still doesn’t make sense? Okay, time to do some more revision on this topic.

Your keywords are also essential to making progress. What I do is fold over that third of A4, where the keywords are written all over, and devise questions that use the keywords as answers. For instance, if you’re reading about the annexation of the Sudetenland, and pick out ‘Munich Agreement’ as a key phrase, your question overleaf could be ‘What was the name of the agreement between Chamberlain and Hitler?’ Test yourself, check and move on or continue to revise if you mess up.

This way, you’re not just making notes as you revise – you’re also creating revision resources that will help out Future You much later down the line.

Cornell Notes might be a little trickier to use effectively with very long, academic texts, but they’re perfect for shorter pieces. Do you already use them in your learning? How have they affected your revision?

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