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The Cornell System for Taking Notes


1. Use a large loose leaf notebook.

  • It's large enough for ample room.
  • The loose leaf feature enables you to insert "hand-outs" etc.

2. Draw a vertical line about 2 ½ inches from the left edge of each sheet. This is the recall column.

  • Record classroom notes in the space to the right of the line.
  • Later, write the key words and phrases to the left of the line--in the recall column.


  • Record your notes in simple dash outline. Your object is to make your notes clear so they will have meaning weeks or months later.
  • Strive to capture general ideas rather than details. You will be better able to follow the train of thought or the development of an idea.
  • Skip lines to show the end of one idea and the start of another. Indicate sub-ideas and supporting details with numbers or letters under the major idea.
  • Use abbreviations when possible. Don't, however, use so many abbreviations that you can't decipher your notes later.
  • Write legibly. Do your notes right the first time!


  • Consolidate your notes as soon after the lecture as possible.
  • Read through them, making corrections and filling in; finish with a summary.
  • Underline or box the words containing the main ideas.
  • In the recall column, create questions next to the information in the record section.

These will be cues for the ideas and facts on the right (in making your recall questions you will be preparing for possible test questions and you will have organized and structured the lecture in a meaningful, easy to remember form).

  • Now cover up the right side of the sheet, exposing only the recall column. Using your questions, key words, or phrases to help you recall, RECITE aloud the facts or ideas of the lecture as fully as you can. Then uncover the notes and verify what you have said.


1. Record (write) the lecture.

2. Reduce the ideas and facts into the recall column.

3. Recite the main ideas and facts triggered by your recall phrases.

4. Reflect on your understanding of the material.

5. Review your notes periodically.


Adapted from