Cornell Note Taking — The Best Way To Take Notes, Explained

September 19, 2022

Cornell notes are simply one of the best ways to take notes.


They’re easy to create, help you understand material better as you take them, and are incredibly easy to use to review.

Here’s how you can start taking Cornell notes too.

What are Cornell Notes?

Cornell note-taking is a popular note-taking method for taking, organizing, and summarizing notes. This method typically results in better overall comprehension.

This note-taking method was invented by Professor Walter Paul of Cornell University in the 1950s.

How to Take Cornell Notes

It requires very little preparation which makes it ideal for note-taking in class. The page is divided into 4 — or sometimes only 3 — different sections:

  1. One block at the top of the page
  2. Two columns
  3. One block at the bottom of the page

Taking Cornell notes is straightforward: all actual notes from the lecture go into the main note-taking column.

The smaller column on the left side is for keywords and questions — you can think of this section for recording hints and prompts about the material.

At the bottom of the page, write a brief summary of the content on the page.

Why Is Cornell Note-Taking So Effective?

  • Active summarizing. By actively summarizing a topic, you’ll gain a better understanding of your class notes 
  • Intentional note-taking. Cornell notes encourage focus and intentionality when taking notes. Rather than writing everything down, you have to write key points and often reflect on the material
  • Revision-ready notes. When it comes time to revisit your notes, they’re formatted well for revision: you can use the questions to test your knowledge, summaries to refresh your memory, or your main notes for necessary detail

To learn more, read our article on science-backed study techniques, curated by a Harvard student.

Tips to Take Better Cornell Notes

  1. Use the left column to write questions that you can use to quiz yourself on when revising. (See our article on active recall!)
  2. Sometimes you may reach the end of a piece of paper, before you’re actually finished taking your notes. Even if the notes aren’t complete, don’t forgo the summary. Write the summary based on the existing points on the page.
  3. Cornell notes are written to be easy to review. So make sure to review them!

Download a Free Cornell Notes Template

Goodnotes is one of the most popular note-taking apps for handwritten notes on the iPad, and it comes with the Cornell notes template you see above.

If you don’t use Goodnotes, you can download a free printable template here too.

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