Cornell Method

The Cornell method was devised in the 1950s by an expert in study techniques from Cornell University, Walter Pauk.

In spite of its antiquity, this method is still widely commented today, so I thought I’d give it a chance. That’s why I’ve started to try it at conference talks. This method has two parts: A) Prepare the sheets according to a template; and B) Learn how to use the template.



  • Greatest to take notes in class.
  • A column to the left to write key words or phrases when reviewing the notes.
  • A bottom zone to write down a summary or key ideas of the leaf content.
  1. Take notes in class in the large area.
  2. After class (no more than 24 hours later), read it again and write questions on the left side area that are answered with the content of the notes.
  3. Recite what you read: cover the large area, read the questions and try to answer them aloud.
  4. Reflect on what has been read: meaning, general rules that apply, what relationship you have with other topics …
  5. Review each week the notes you prepared using the left area, and if necessary, make an even more concise summary in the lower area.

First problem I encounter when I use this system: I have little space to write in class. Although on the scheme it seems that there is much space, when I start writing I find it very small. That means that every hour of talk will occupy me several more pages than usual.

Nevertheless, it seems to me a success of this method to reserve spaces for abstracts and keywords. When you study something very visual that space is good to include drawings or schemes to accompany the writing in class. In fact, I usually leave a wide margin to the left precisely for that in my notes. But I find it useful to separate clearly the area of notes and the summary with a straight line, to be able to use each zone in a different way when reviewing.

If the class is somewhat confusing, you may have to use the side area to rewrite the subject, or even that you have to organize your notes or use notes of other years. At first it seems that a lot of paper is wasted, but I think if you take notes by hand it is worth it, so try the system.

If you take notes on a laptop, it is not necessary to use a special template, because then in your study time you can modify and complement the notes as much as you want depending on what software you are using. Although they say out there that taking notes on computer does not allow to retain information equally well that if you take it by hand, but that will be subject for another post.