A little over a week ago I wrote about three tips to help perfect your note taking. I stated that re-reading and highlighting have been shown time and again to be amongst the worst methods of note taking and learning. So what is the secret? Well that’s where we come to Cornell Notes. Many people have estimated that their retention, understanding and application of information goes from 30-40% with methods like re-reading and highlighting, to 70-90% when using Cornell Notes.
Cornell Notes is a system developed in the 1950’s by Walter Pauk, a professor at Cornell University. The system uses a structured yet flexible approach to note taking, and utilises basic learning psychology to improve learning efficiency. It isn’t about capturing every word you hear in a lecture and then being able to regurgitate it verbatim. It actually encourages comprehension and critical appraisal, which are important steps in the application of learned knowledge.
The first thing to remember is that Cornell Notes is a system – not a magic bullet. The two main components of the system are The Equipment, and The Method. Each component is important; if you leave one out then the system loses it’s efficacy.
This is your notebook. Whilst I am a big fan of digitising information, as of yet this system still seems to work best with handwritten notes. However the invention of the iPad and other tablet devices is changing this – you can still handwrite but store everything electronically.
In the case of Cornell Notes, a specially formatted page is part of the secret. The illustration shows you how the page should be formatted. The title of the lecture and date at the top, a column on the left which is roughly 1/3 of the page width, a column on the right which is 2/3 of the page width, and a small bottom horizontal box.
The four steps in the method are:
The combination of the equipment and the method of Cornell Notes makes for a powerful system of note-taking and learning. Of course like any system, it takes practice to master. But give it a try, and let me know in the comments how you go!
For more information and resources, see the links below: