Taking Notes

The Cornell System for Note Taking

The Cornell system uses a double column format for taking notes. The lefthand column (called the Recall column) is reserved for marking main ideas and jotting down questions when you review your notes. The larger, righthand column (called the Capture column) is used for the notes themselves.

The Cornell system, useful for taking notes both in lectures and from textbooks or other print material, relies on four steps.

Step 1

The Cornell system begins with taking notes during the lecture using a simple format like this one:

main idea/keyword/name/date
--supporting details

Leave lots of blank spaced between ideas to make your notes easier to read later and to help you locate what information goes together and what needs to stay separate.

Then begin with the next

main idea/keyword/name/date

and so on.

Step 2

The next step in the Cornell system begins after the lecture when you first start using the Recall column on the lefthand part of the page. Go through your notes and copy main ideas into the Recall column. Also write questions that prompt you to remember the accompanying details.

Step 3

In the next step of the Cornell system, you begin making the lecture material your own knowledge by covering up the Capture column of the notes and looking only at the main ideas and key words you've copied into the Recall column. Use the questions you've also jotted into the Recall column to recreate the main ideas of the lecture. Talk out loud. Become the teacher as you rehease the information.

This step reinforces what you know and helps you see what you don't. To work most effectively, though, you should review your notes right after each lecture and again every weekend.

Step 4

The final step in the Cornell system helps you study for exams.

Place your notes in front of you, overlapping, so that all the Capture columns are covered up. All the Recall columns are right next to each other--and there's your semester right in front of you! Now go down each column to review all the main ideas from the course.

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