With the Cornell method, different parts of the notebook paper have different functions. Notes are recorded on one half, key words and concepts are recorded in another area called the recall column, and a summary is recorded at the bottom of the paper.

The Cornell method is similar to the two-column method and the REAP strategy. More information related to the Cornell method is included in the Reviewing Notes section of this page.

The Cornell method of notetaking offers several advantages. It results in more organized notes. It allows students to quickly and identify key words and key concepts from a lecture. The notes can easily be used as a study guide for exam preparation. The arrangement of information is aesthetically pleasing and easy to scan, making it easy to locate particular pieces of information. The strategy may be adapted to a number of presentation formats.

Directions for using the Cornell method are as follows.

  1. Divide the paper
    • Use loose leaf notebook paper and write on one side of the page only.
    • Divide the paper vertically by drawing a line from top to bottom about 2" from the left side of the page.


  1. Documentation
    • Write the following information at the top of each page: student name, course, date, and page number.
  2. Record notes
    • During lecture, record the main ideas and concepts on the right side of the page. This is the notes column.
    • Rephrase the information in your own words before writing it down.
    • Skip one line between ideas and several lines between topics.
    • Avoid writing in complete sentences; use symbols and abbreviations instead.
    • The format or style of the notes can vary, but avoid using a formal outline. Suggestions for organizing the notes are:
      • Paragraph Style: For unstructured information, record notes in paragraph style with short, telegraphic sentences and phrases.
      • Topic and Ideas Style: For expanded topic information, record topics and ideas.
      • Sentence Style: For ideas and concepts, record notes in short sentences.
      • Definition Style: For main topics and features, record definitions and explanations of words in short phrases.
  3. Review and Clarify
    • As soon after class as possible, review the notes in the right column and clarify any ambiguous information.
    • Compare the information with the book and/or other students' notes.
    • Then pull the main ideas, concepts, terms, places, dates, and people from the right column and record them in the left-hand recall column.
  4. Summarize
    • Prepare a summary of the lecture material and record it at the end of the notes.
    • The summary may be in sentences or short phrases. It should include only the main ideas from the lecture.
  5. Study
    • Use both sections of the notes to prepare for quizzes and exams.
    • Some reviewing strategies that are suited to the Cornell format are NoteSHRINK, NoteTALK, and NoteTHINK.

An example of the Cornell method of notetaking is provided below.


The Cornell Method

Why should I use the Cornell Method?

1.        It encourages you to organize your class notes.

2.        It gives you a polished set of notes to study from.

3.        This method gets the information into both short- and long-term memory.

4.        It saves time when studying for periodic, mid-term, or final examinations.

How do I set up my notebook page using this method?

1.        Use a loose-leaf notebook and paper.

2.        Draw a line down the paper 1/3 from the left. Label this RECALL COLUMN.

3.        Always title and date each entry.

How do I take notes during a lecture using the Cornell Method?

1.        Record all your notes in the large section to the right of the recall column.

2.        Take notes in the simplest form possible, using keywords and abbreviations.

3.        Try to grasp as many main ideas and important details as possible.

4.        Skip lines to indicate the end of one main idea and the beginning of another.

What should I do after my class is over?

1.        As soon as possible, read through your notes and fill in any blanks. Highlight the main ideas.

2.        Next, fill in your recall column by jotting down keywords, phrases, or questions that stand as cues for main ideas and facts on the right.

3.        Now you can summarize these notes in a couple of sentences. Restate the information in your own words.

4.        You can review your notes daily and quiz yourself by folding the notes so only the recall column is showing.


The Cornell Method of Note Taking

2 1/2 inches
Reduce ideas to concise jottings and summaries as cues for reciting.

6 inches

Record the lecture as fully and as meaningfully as possible.

Cornell Method

This sheet demonstrates the Cornell Method of taking classroom notes. It is recommended by experts from the Learning Center at Cornell University.

Line drawn down paper

You should draw a line down your note page about 2 1/2 inches from the left side, or use the paper that law students use which already has a wide left margin. On the right side of the line simply record your classroom notes as you usually do. Be sure that you write legibly. (See hints for recording notes below).

After the lecture

After the lecture you should read the notes, fill in materials that you missed, make your writing legible and underline any important materials. Ask another classmate for help if you missed something during the lecture.

Use the recall
Column Key Phrases

The recall column on the left will help you when you study for your tests. Jot down any important words or key phrases in the recall column. This activity forces you to rethink and summarize your notes. The key words should stick in your mind.

Five R's

The Five R's will help you take better notes based on the Cornell Method.


1. Record any information given during the lecture which you believe will be important.


2. When you reduce your information you are summarizing and listing key words/phrases in the recall column


5. Cover the notes you took for class. Test yourself on the words in the recall section. This is what we mean by recite.


7. You should reflect on the information you received during the lecture. Determine how your ideas fit in with the information.


9. If you review your notes you will remember a great deal more when you take your midterm.


The Cornell Note Taking System


Recall Column



------2 1/2”--------  ----------------6”--------------------


Reduce ideas and facts to

concise jottings and

summaries as cues for                                      Record the lecture as fully and as

Reciting, Reviewing,                               meaningfully as possible.

and Reflecting.








The format provides the perfect opportunity for following through with the 5 R's of note-taking. Here they are:


1. Record.  During the lecture, record in the main column as many meaningful facts and ideas as you can. Write legibly.


2. Reduce.  As soon after as possible, summarize  these ideas and facts concisely in the Recall Column. Summarizing clarifies meanings and relationships, reinforces continuity, and strengthens memory. Also, it is a way of preparing for examinations gradually and well ahead of time.


3. Recite.  Now cover the column, using only your jottings in the Recall Column as cues or "flags" to help you recall, say over facts and ideas of the lecture as fully as you can, not mechanically, but in your own words and with as much appreciation of the meaning as you can. Then, uncovering your notes, verify what you have said. This procedure helps to transfer the facts and ideas of your long term memory.


4. Reflect.  Reflective students distill their opinions from their notes. They make such opinions the starting point for their own musings upon the subjects they are studying. Such musings aid them in making sense out of their courses and academic experiences by finding relationships among them. Reflective students continually label and index their experiences and ideas, put them into structures, outlines, summaries, and frames of reference. They rearrange and file them. Best of all, they have an eye for the vital-for the essential. Unless ideas are placed in categories, unless they are taken up from time to time for re-examination, they will become inert and soon forgotten.


5. Review. If you will spend 10 minutes every week or so in a quick review of these notes, you will retain most of what you have learned, and you will be able to use your knowledge currently to greater and greater effectiveness.    


©Academic Skills Center, Dartmouth College 2001