What Is the Cornell Note Taking System and How to Use It

Cornell Note Taking System

We all know how important diligent note-taking is for our reading performance. Whether we do it for studying, to improve reading comprehension, or to enhance our level of retention, taking notes has always been an important part of the reading experience for those interested in extracting maximum value from their reading sessions. The Cornell note taking system can be an invaluable tool when used properly and it can change the way we approach reading in general, while also giving us a much-needed performance boost.

Here at Basmo, we are entirely committed to helping you achieve the best level of performance in all reading-related matters. That is why we decided to extensively present what Cornell note taking means, how it works, and why you should implement it in your reading routine. 

What Is the Cornell Note Taking System?

The Cornell notes system is a note-taking method designed to improve how notes are organized, how points are summarized, and to enhance the way people engage with reading or studying materials. 

At the base of this method stands the process of dividing the sheet of paper you are taking your notes on into three different sections: one large section for the actual notes, another one for summarizing and clarifying the notes, and one for your own reflections. 

This system comes with the benefit of keeping the notes well-organized and easy to read. It is a systematic method focused on headings, bullet points, and abbreviations, and it can make the process of learning and taking notes that can be actually used in the future a lot safer and more precise.

Who Invented the Cornell Method of Note Taking?

Despite what you may be inclined to think, the Cornell note taking method has been invented by a professor called Walter Pauk back in the 1950s. He was a teacher at Cornell University and he created this system to help his own students become more efficient with their note-taking.

Walter Pauk has been acclaimed as one of the most influential professors in the field of study skills and developmental education and on top of being Cornell University’s reading and study center director, he also authored the best seller “How to study in College”.

What started as Walter Pauk’s intention to help his students take better notes during his lectures has quickly developed into the Cornell notes system we know and use today. 

Are Cornell Notes Effective?

Studies have been conducted in the past to analyze the effectiveness of the Cornell note method and how Cornell notes can enhance studying and note-taking in general. 

While the conclusions differed from one study to another especially because of the actual topic they were focusing on, the general consensus among specialists seems to be that the Cornell note-taking system does bring certain benefits and improvements in the actual quality of the notes students take. 

It is unclear however whether these better notes also have a positive effect on comprehension and retention though.

For example, a study from 2010 conducted by Wichita State University concluded that the Cornell method added benefits to the quality of notes taken by students who were required to synthesize and apply new information compared to those who used the guided notes method, which is more efficient for basic recall. 

A later study from 2013 showed that students using the Cornell notes system had better note organization skills and better quality annotations, but the effects on their ability to use them to achieve better academic results were inconsistent. 

The Pros and Cons of Using Cornell Notes

As with anything, the Cornell system comes with a couple of drawbacks, but we should also be aware of the benefits of Cornell notes.


Cornell notes are easy to organize. They provide a straightforward and structured way to organize your notes and thoughts. Since this technique is based on dividing the information into sections for major concepts, supporting details, and your own summaries and conclusions, it definitely brings structure to the process. This helps you better classify or categorize your data, which aids both comprehension and retention. 

The Cornell note-taking system encourages active reading and learning. By involving the reader or the student in a more mentally challenging note-taking process, the Cornell system basically encourages students to engage more closely with the texts or the information. They will need to summarize, synthesize, and connect more thoroughly with the content.

Cornell notes could improve information retention. Notes that are easy to read, well structured, and properly organized will always be a lot easier to study from and will contain enough information for the student to retain. They can be easily used to identify key information and reinforce other concepts.

The Cornell note taking system is versatile. Cornell notes can be modified for use in a variety of disciplines, including science, math, history, or any other purpose that is related to reading or studying. 


It’s time-consuming. The Cornell note-taking method is not a great option whenever you are in a hurry. Whether that means you are trying to take notes during a quick lecture or that you are reading at a faster pace, taking notes in the Cornell fashion will definitely slow you down considerably. 

It will limit you to a confined space dedicated to your notes. The Cornell format’s note-taking section is small, which can be difficult if you need to jot down a lot of information quickly. 

It requires a certain level of discipline. Using the Cornell note-taking system requires a level of discipline that makes it a relatively tough assignment for those who are not committed enough or simply struggle with organization or time management. 

It takes a while to get used to it. While taking regular notes is something that anyone can do without much effort, using Cornell notes takes some getting used to. It requires additional training and practice to be used effectively.

How to Take Cornell Notes?

Since I already mentioned that taking notes using the Cornell method takes some practice and requires some prep work and training, here is our step-by-step guide to writing the best Cornell notes.

Step-By-Step Guide for Writing Cornell Notes

  1. Properly set up your paper or writing material. Whether you decide to take notes on a piece of paper or by using a certain device, you will need to prepare it properly. That means splitting the page or the document into three separate categories: notes, cues, and summaries. Notes and cues should be added to two columns, while the summaries should be in a separate category at the bottom of the page.
  1. Add a title so you can easily identify the notes later. Whether that means writing the title at the top of the page or simply naming your document in a relevant way, you should always use a title for your notes. This will make it a lot easier for you to identify the notes later when you need to go over them again. 
  1. Write your notes. As you read, or during the lecture you are attending, the first thing to do is actually write the notes. These should be added to the left column of your paper and should include key information, important ideas, and your own questions related to the topic. Using abbreviations and symbols will save you space and time, but make sure to do it in a way that will still allow you to understand them later.
  1. Jot down your cues. Cues should be added to the right column of your Cornell notes. Cues should be keywords that will later help you identify what particular notes are about. 
  1. Add your summaries. Once you are done reading or when the lecture is over, it’s time to go over your notes and summarize the lecture or the material you read. Add your own thoughts, and summarize the information in a couple of sentences at the bottom of the page.
  1. Review. Check your notes and make sure that you added all the information that you will later need. Expand where needed, and add details you may have forgotten about on your first go. 

How to Use Cornell Notes?

Once you’re done writing them, it’s time to take into account how you will be able to actually use and maximize the effect of your Cornell notes. 

The most obvious way you can take advantage of your own notes is to constantly review them in order to make sure that you don’t forget the important information you decided to write down. Whether that is part of your efforts to study and achieve academic success or simply part of your reading habits, you should constantly go over the notes you took.

The great thing about the Cornell note taking system is that you will always be able to use your own cues to find information quicker. You can use those as keywords that will indicate exactly where you should be able to find particular pieces of information you need.

You can also feel free to highlight as much as you need from the notes you take. That way you will easily be able to focus on what’s important from the moment you lay eyes on the notes. 

Cornell notes can also play a huge role in your efforts to make connections between certain things you learn, whether that’s from casual reading or from actually studying. Through the use of Cornell notes, you have a chance to improve your level of understanding regarding certain topics, you will retain more information easier and quicker, and even if you actually do end up forgetting things, you will be able to find what’s missing in just a couple of minutes.

How Can Basmo Help?

Basmo is a reading tracking app that can revamp your reading habits and improve your general performance. There are several ways you can use Basmo to enhance your experience and improve your performance even when taking Cornell notes.

Take notes with Basmo. Because we know how important taking notes is for a reader in general, our app comes with a special note-taking feature that allows you to jot down your thoughts whenever you come across important information. The notes can be organized and formatted however you see fit.

Basmo improves your reading habits. With Basmo, you can make reading a part of your life. You can use our app to schedule your reading sessions however you see fit, you can set goals, and you can make sure to read more and quicker.

Basmo is your ultimate reading buddy and will always be of great help whether you’re reading for pleasure or to study.

What Are the Best Cornell Notes Templates?

You can easily choose from a plethora of templates whenever you want to start taking Cornell notes. You can find them at the resources below and you can also let them inspire you with a Cornell note taking example or two:

  1. TemplateLab
  2. WTO
  3. Printabulls
  4. Pinterest
  5. 101planners

Final Thoughts

Now, whether you were wondering “what do Cornell notes look like” or not, you have all the necessary information to use them and boost your productivity, comprehension, and information retention. Use Basmo as well for added benefits and transform the way you read.

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