Updated: Jan 20
The Cornell Method is a note-taking system that helps students effectively organize and review their notes. Devised by Professor Walter Pauk at Cornell University in the 1950s, this method has been widely used by students and educators for decades.
Here's how it works:
Divide some note paper into three sections. The left-hand column should be about 1.5 inches wide, and the right-hand column should take up the rest of the page.
During a lecture or while reading, take notes in the right-hand column. Focus on writing the main ideas and key points, using abbreviations and symbols to save space.
After the lecture or reading, review your notes and choose the most important points. Write these in the left-hand column.
Cover the right-hand column with a sheet of paper and try to recite the main points from memory. If you can't remember a point, uncover the right-hand column and review it again.
Repeat this process regularly to review and reinforce your understanding of the material.
There are several software tools that can be used to emulate the Cornell Method system. Some options include:
Evernote: Evernote includes a template that you can use to create notes in the Cornell Method. (To access the templates, create a new note and click on the "Template" button in the toolbar).
OneNote: OneNote also includes a variety of templates that you can use to create notes in different formats, including the Cornell Method. (To access the templates, create a new note and click on the "Insert" tab in the ribbon, then click on the "Page Templates" button).
Notability: Notability does not include templates specifically for the Cornell Method, but you can create your own template by creating a new note and dividing it into two columns. You can then save the note as a template and reuse it as needed.
(These tools are not endorsed by the author: there are many other software tools that can be used to emulate the Cornell Method system, so you may want to explore a few options to find the one that works best for you)
One of the benefits of the Cornell Method is that it encourages active learning and helps students retain information. By actively recalling the main points from memory, students are more likely to remember the material in the long term. In addition, the Cornell Method helps students identify gaps in their understanding and areas that need more attention. If you struggle to remember certain points, it may be a sign that you need to spend more time reviewing that material.
While the Cornell Method is a popular and effective note-taking system, there are a few potential disadvantages to consider:
This is especially true if you have a lot of material to cover. Reviewing your notes using the Cornell Method may take longer than it would with a different note-taking system.
It’s a limited format:
The method offers a structured approach to note-taking that involves dividing your notes into two columns and reviewing them regularly. This format may not be suitable for all types of learning or for all subjects.
Some students may become overly reliant on the Cornell Method and may struggle to recall information without the use of structured notes. (It's important to use a variety of study techniques and to develop strong independent learning skills).
Not suitable for all: The Cornell Method’s linear approach may not work well for everyone. Some students may prefer more visual or interactive approaches to learning.
How effective is the Cornell Method?
There have been several studies on the effectiveness of the Cornell Method, with mixed results. Some research has found that the Cornell Method can be an effective way to organize and review notes and may help students perform better on exams. One study found that students, who had used the Cornell Method, had higher exam scores, and reported feeling more confident about their understanding of the material, than students who used other note-taking methods (Kiewra & Atkinson, 1986).
However, other research has found that the Cornell Method may not be significantly more effective than other note-taking methods (Cheng, Chen & Hwang, 2018). A review published in the Journal of Experimental Education found that, while the Cornell Method had some benefits, it was not consistently more effective than other methods in improving learning and retention (Lin & Kiewra, 2007).
Overall, it seems that the Cornell Method can be a useful tool for organizing and reviewing notes, but it may not be the best fit for everyone. It's important to find the study approaches that work best for you and to use a variety of techniques to reinforce your understanding of the material. While the Cornell Method may be effective at improving learning and retention, it may not be significantly more effective than other note-taking methods in all cases.
Kiewra, K. A., & Atkinson, R. K. (1986). The Cornell note-taking method: An evaluation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 78(5), 402-411.
Cheng, Y. W., Chen, Y. C., & Hwang, G. J. (2018). The effects of note-taking methods on academic performance: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 23, 1-15.
Lin, Y. S., & Kiewra, K. A. (2007). The effects of note-taking methods on learning and retention. Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 207-219.
Lai, C. M., & Yu, H. P. (2013). The effects of note-taking methods on learning performance: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 9, 119-135.