In college, taking notes is a part of every student’s day. Some students find taking notes to be an overwhelming part of their studies. However, just passively taking notes is not always the most effective way to understand the content of a lecture. Developing a system for note-taking is an excellent way to stay organized and motivated in college.

Cornell notes are a widely-used note-taking method, used by college students to help them understand their main points from lectures in a clear and easy way. A Cornell note template keeps your research organized and makes your work easy to review when it comes time to revise for an exam.

Cornell Notes Templates

What are Cornell notes?

The Cornell Method was invented in the 1950s by Walter Pauk, a professor at Cornell University.

This method for writing notes is popular among high school and college students, as it helps students to organize and summarize their notes in an intentional way, designed to help them revise better for exams.

Cornell notes use a divided page so that all of the details are organized into clear sections. You can download one of our Cornell notes templates to have this layout written for you.

For example, the top of the page will have a title for the lecture. There will be a larger part of the page designed for actual note-taking.

Then, the column at the side will be used to write down keywords and questions about the notes themselves, grouping them together in a coherent way. The bottom section of the page will be used for an overall summary of the lecture.

Often, college students can take lots of notes and then, when it comes time to review them, ignore their notes because of how messy and disorganized they are. Using a Cornell notes template ensures that the note-taking system itself is intentional and organized, ready to be revised when it comes time to study.

What is the Cornell notes format?

Creating a page layout for your Cornell notes is the key component for taking notes effectively using this method.

You can format your own page layouts using the steps below, or you can save time by using a Cornell notes template. You can print our Cornell notes templates and customize them to suit your note-taking style.

Designing the format yourself can bring a sense of personalization to your notes, but using a Cornell notes template is an easier choice, especially if you will be taking a large number of notes or attending several lectures.

Cornell Notes Template 01 -
Cornell Notes Template 01 - Download for Excel Cornell Notes Template 01 - Download for Word Cornell Notes Template 01 - Download in PDF
Cornell Notes Template 02 -
Cornell Notes Template 02 - Download for Excel Cornell Notes Template 02 - Download for Word Cornell Notes Template 02 - Download in PDF

How to take Cornell notes

Cornell notes are designed in a particular way to maximize your note-taking and make it as organized as possible. The pages are split into three sections: the Cue Column, the Note-Taking Column, and the Summary section.

  1. First, draw a vertical line down the left-hand side of your page. You should aim for it to be around 6cm and 6.35cm from the left edge, and 5cm from the bottom edge of the paper.
    The column on the left side will be known as the ‘Cue Column.’ This is where you will write potential questions about your notes, which I explain in more detail later on. The larger, right-hand side column will be called the ‘Note Taking Column.’ It is where all of your notes from the lecture will go.
  2. Then, draw a horizontal line across the bottom of the page, underneath the Cue and Note-Taking columns. This will be the ‘Summary’ section of your page. This section should be about 5-7 lines long.
    This is an essential part of the page, and I explain this in more detail in the ‘What are the 5 steps of Cornell notes?’ section of this article.
  3. You can print a Cornell notes template to have these three sections pre-made for you. This allows you to take notes without needing to prepare anything beforehand. All you need is your Cornell notes template and a pen, and you’re good to go.

What are the 5 steps of Cornell notes?

An example of an effective note-taking method is ‘The 5 Rs.’ This is a 5-step process you can use to take notes effectively using a Cornell notes template.

  1. Record your notes in your Cornell notes template

Record your notes in the Note-Taking Column of your page. This is the largest space on your page, where you will record the main ideas from the lecture.

This information could include:

  • Diagrams displayed by the professor
  • Questions posed and possible answers
  • Relevant information emphasized by the professor

A useful method for recording notes is to write using telegraphic sentences. Telegraphic sentences use abbreviations to help turn longer, complex sentences into shorter ones, making them easier to analyze later. During note-taking, you can speed up the process by leaving out unnecessary words in your writing and using telegraphic sentences instead.

  1. Reduce your notes

Once you have recorded your notes, you can begin filling out the Cue Column in your template. 

This column, located on the left-hand side of the page, is a way to reduce your notes, so that the information in your Note Taking Column becomes less overwhelming and more manageable, especially when it comes to reviewing your notes later on.

This is used as a way to ‘test yourself’ against your notes. When reading over your notes, you should add keywords or brief phrases to the Cue Column, in order to ‘group’ the main ideas together and essentially give them subheadings.

Then, you should begin to formulate questions about your notes, particularly in the form of potential test questions. This helps you to create practice questions, which will become very useful when you are studying for an upcoming exam. This will help you to increase your retention of the material, as well as allowing you to understand it on a deeper level.

  1. Summarize your notes

Effectively summarizing your writing will help you to review the material in a way that makes sense to you. It is a useful way to review the material as it requires you to put the main points into your own words.

Your summary space in the Cornell notes template can include diagrams, images, or sentences. By creating a summary, you will begin to identify areas of the material that you need further clarification with, too. This is, therefore, an essential part of the Cornell method, and should not be skipped over.

Each template that we offer includes a summary section, so you can feel prepared to write using the Cornell notes system.

  1. Recite your notes

With your notes recorded and reduced in your template, it’s time to begin memorizing them. There are many ways you can memorize and recite notes to help you increase your understanding of the material. A popular method I tell my students to use is the ‘Cover and Check’ method.

This is a system where you read over your writing in the Notes Column, cover them, and then recite them back, either on your own or to a friend. Then you can uncover the Note Column and check if you answered correctly. If you recite them incorrectly, this allows you to learn the correct answer for next time. However, if you find that you are reciting your notes with ease each time, this is an indicator that your notes are too simple. Consider adding more details to your initial research if this is the case.

  1. Reflect and review regularly

As your notes will look clear and organized with this method, you can easily review them whenever necessary using your notes templates. If you have an upcoming exam to study for, you should review your notes regularly. You can effectively review your notes using the ‘Cover and Check’ method, or using whichever self-test method works for you.

Cornell Notes Examples

Cornell Notes Template 03 -
Cornell Notes Template 03 - Download for Excel Cornell Notes Template 03 - Download for Word Cornell Notes Template 03 - Download in PDF

How are Cornell notes effective for students?

The Cornell notes system is proven to be an effective note-taking method for college students.

One of the biggest benefits of using this note-taking method is how straightforward it is. It requires very little preparation, and none at all if you use Cornell notes templates. There are many reasons why students continue to use this method year after year.

Note-taking is active, not passive

By having a more limited amount of space to write, and knowing that you have to create questions about the main points from the lecture, makes the act of note-taking itself more of an active activity for students.

It improves listening skills and requires students to focus and choose which ideas from the lecture are essential. This is opposed to writing down every single word the lecturer says, which is both time-consuming and not necessary.

Improves critical thinking skills

As a note-taking method, Walter Pauk, of Cornell University, designed the Cornell notes system to be used as a study tool in and of themselves.

The very essence of Cornell note-taking is that you have to test yourself on the material. This method, therefore, forces you to think critically and summarize your notes effectively in order to better understand the material.

Instead of simply reading the notes and hoping to remember them, with this method you have to use keywords to describe your notes, as well as creating questions to test yourself with later on. This almost makes the student become the teacher of the material to themselves, and being in this role is a highly effective way to remember information.

Organization creates better study habits

Writing notes using the Cornell method is a way to keep your research looking organized and neat. Maintaining your notes in this organized template is a guaranteed way to be more inclined to look back at your writing in the future.

When students have messy notes that follow no real logic, it can be very unappealing to have to study them later on. Using the Cornell notes method will ensure that what you have written looks neat and when it comes time to study, it looks less overwhelming. Your overall study habits will improve using this organized and efficient note-taking system.

Print Cornell notes templates to begin your organized note-taking

Evidently, Cornell notes are an excellent way to stay organized as a student and help you to focus in class and on your college lectures.

I know that college students are busy people, with lectures, extracurriculars, and parties to attend. You can save time designing your own pages and instead download and print our free Cornell notes templates. You can customize the downloaded templates with your own title and images, and write up your notes when the time comes.

Make your studies less overwhelming and start using Cornell notes templates to get the most out of each class.

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Tagged:Cornell NotesEducationLearningNotes
TemplateLab June 20th, 2023
Eleanor Griffiths
Eleanor Griffiths