Cornell Notes — Not only for Students

In my research for a note-taking system, I happened across Cornell Notes and wish I had known about it when I was in college. It facilitates learning in a lecture setting because in addition to taking notes, there is a summary area as well as a specified area on the page for your own observations or questions to which you can later refer when studying outside the class room. The system uses standard-sized paper that is divided into three parts.

The main section on the right is the largest. It is here that the class notes are written. The width of this section is 5″ to 6″ in width and its length is approximately three-quarters of the way down the page. The second section is adjacent to the main section, and is 2″ to 3″ in width and the same length. This is called the cue section and leaves space for your own thoughts, questions, or maybe a note on something that needs to be emphasized in the notes you have taken in class. These sections are the areas of focus while taking class notes on lectures.

The third section is across the bottom of the page. It is more or less a summary area of the content of the notes of the page. It is used when studying and reviewing after class or before a test.

Even though this system is intended for the student who sits through a lecture class, I have found it useful for taking notes while reading. One great advantage to this system is that the limited area of the main section forces me to focus on only the important points of whatever I am reading. To have a full sheet of white paper in a spiral-bound notebook tends to make me think I have all the room I need and so I try to get (nearly every) word that is read or heard. The object is not to copy the words verbatim, but to get the ideas, thoughts and facts. Too often, in a lecture, the important points are lost because we’re too concerned with trying to get every spoken word on paper.

Being a low-tech method, it is also very convenient because you can use it anywhere — plane, train, park, auto repair shop — without having to worry about having a power source or carrying around a laptop (which can get heavy at times).

Below are some links to sites that allow you to download for free the Cornell Notes sheet. There are also instructions for creating them in Word.

Cornell Graphpaper — A form to select various styles. This is primarily for the generation of graph paper — engineering students should love it!
Lifehacker — Has a great introduction on the use of this system as well as links to other sites. The technique for developing your own using Word is also provided on this site.
Brigham Young University — Has tips on the Cornell system and other general hints on note taking/studying.
Eleven21 — Nice, simple Cornell Notes generator.

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