The Cornell Notetaking Method: Does it work?

Student taking notes

There are many different ways of taking notes in school or at the university. Some prefer to take a structured approach and use an outline method to take notes. Others may prefer a visual way and draw mind maps, some may even use no structure at all.  We are all different types of learners, and therefore, we all have many different kinds of studying methods.

However, there is one note-taking technique that is superior to others in many cases. Science has proven that it is not only more efficient but also makes it a lot easier to review notes, for example when preparing for an exam.

The technique we‘re referring to is called “Cornell Note Taking”. It is a system for taking, organizing and reviewing notes. In the 1950s, Prof. Walter Pauk of Cornell University devised this innovative notetaking method.

The Cornell method involves dividing a piece of paper into 3 different sections, as illustrated below. The top right column, called the notes column, is filled out in class during the lecture. The smaller column on the left side is for questions, comments and important information about the notes. These are answered when reviewing and keywords or comments that make the whole reviewing and exam preparation process easier. This column is filled out right after or soon after the class. When reviewing the notes, a brief summary of every page should be written into the section at the bottom. This section summarises the lessons for said class, and is filled out when reviewing class notes at the end of the day.

We’ve asked several UTM students from different majors to try out this method, and here are their experiences.

Ahmed, 2nd Year, Mechatronics

Fun Fact About Ahmed: Wanted to buy a lion as a pet when he was a child

For Ahmed, it had been a tough first week, what with getting used to the time difference and the heavy online traffic on UTM’s portals. His classes consisted mostly of introducing the coursework for the upcoming semester. He had to get used to the challenge of time zones, as his classes would start at 2am. According to Ahmed, his seniors had told him the upcoming semester would be easy. He hopes he will be less stressed throughout this already stressful time in our lives. 

Here is an example of notes Ahmed had taken throughout the course of his first week. Props to Ahmed for being so succinct and precise in his notetaking!

Belal, 2nd Year, Biomedical Engineering

Fun Fact About Belal: He eats only spicy food

Belal had started the week trying to adjust with the notetaking method, as listening and writing during an online class is quite a bit more challenging than a face-to-face class. Within a few tries, he had been able to get used to online learning. He even recommended the method to his friends. In his opinion, the method makes it easier to revise topics and concepts at a glance after the class. He ended his week with a theoretical class, where the notetaking method worked extremely well. It was useful in terms of gathering a large amount of information and organising it. He did note that summarising large amounts of information is a bit challenging.

Belal has registered for 20 credits this semester and he is hopeful that he will be able to take on the added challenge. He believes the method will prove useful when preparing for tests and examinations, especially during revision. We wish Belal all the best in his upcoming semester. May he ace all his classes!

Nizar, 2nd Year, Mechanical Engineering

Fun Fact about Nizar: Never kept notes in his entire life

Moving on to our amazing Editor-In-Chief, Nizar, who has apparently never kept notes in his entire life. Nizar’s semester is expected to be a tough one as he has taken on a heavy course load, and he is conducting his semester online for the first time. Nizar’s week had just begun but he could see that the technique was already quite useful for his major. He could separate tips from actual class notes. The summary section of the method had taken him a while to get used to. However, as the week progressed, he saw that the notetaking method became indispensable when he encountered a lecturer whose lecture slides contained entire essays.

Nizar’s week ended with getting used to the method, and using the technique to take notes of diagrams, becoming creative to save space. One con that he had encountered along the way was the fact that using loose sheets for his courses made him unorganised. Nizar is now looking forward to finding a notebook with the technique printed on it for more convenience!

Ameera, 3rd Year, Industrial Biology

Fun Fact About Ameera: Often ends doodling on important notes and journals

We couldn’t assign volunteers to try this method without the writer getting involved too, right? My week was also an introductory one, with most courses beginning with light activities, icebreakers and lectures. I did say most. Some of my courses went right into lectures, a snap into the reality of the fact that I’m halfway through university. Some of my notes are attached below. 

As a student in a major that involves a great deal of information as well as understanding of complex concepts and recalling them, the Cornell Notetaking method is one of the most amazing methods to organise topics, concepts, subtopics, keywords and most importantly, tips from the lecturers.

I would like to take this moment to thank the volunteers of this project. They had taken time out of not only their week, but their classes, to experiment with this method. Their feedback, I hope, has been valuable in helping you, our esteemed readers, understand this method effectively. We really hope you try this notetaking method during classes to find out if it is the right fit for you. You can download the digital template of the method here.

All the best to everyone for this upcoming online semester. We all have many obstacles ahead of us in this new norm. With hard work and perseverance, we may prevail. May all of you ace your classes this semester!

[Editor’s Note: Volunteer responses have been abridged and paraphrased for clarity.]

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