Save Hours of Studying With Cornell Notes

how to take Cornell notes

Your latest test: F

You thought you studied. Apparently, glancing at your notes the night before doesn’t work anymore.


What now?


You could try to force yourself to review more often. But why not make your notes do some of that work for you?


Use a note taking system that has built in systems that pressure you to review more often. It’ll increase retention, study time, and your test scores. It’s called, Cornell.


Wait wait wait

Don’t run off yet. Cornell notes get a bad rep. Many students hate the system because it seems to take a little extra effort. But in reality, it doesn’t.


The extra time you spend on the notes is time spent studying. Therefore, you can study less later on and still achieve better results. Assuming you were going to study in the first place, you don’t lose any time at all.


5 Reasons you should be using Cornell notes

  1. Organization: The system gives each of your notes structure and commonality. This makes you more likely to review them and it’ll make reviewing easier too.


  1. You’ll Review Sooner: The question and summary sections of your notes will make you review your notes the day that you take them. This will help move the information into your long term memory.


  1. Makes studying easier: Most note systems are difficult to study from. But Cornell notes make it easy.


  1. Helps you understand concepts: If you ask high level questions, you’ll challenge yourself to apply the material to new situations.


  1. Saves you time studying: If you review your notes regularly, you won’t have to stay up till 2 am reviewing the day before a big test.


How to take Cornell notes

Set up the page

Divide your notebook into three parts. First draw a vertical line down the left side of the page, 2” from the edge; Then draw a horizontal line, 2” from the bottom of the page. See diagram below.


Cornell Notes Example


The left section is for questions, the bottom for summary, and the middle for notes.


Timing is everything

The notes section will be done in class. However, the summary and question sections will be done afterwards (ASAP).


Find time right after class, during passing, before practice, or at home. It should only take five minutes so you’ll be done fast. If you wait too long, the system will fail.


The notes section

Most students get turned off by Cornell notes because they think that you need to use a fancy bulleted system. The reality is, you can take notes however you like. Whether you want to use a mind map, the traditional bullets, or little organization at all, it doesn’t matter.


As long as you can look over and understand this section, it has done its job.


The questions section

As you’re taking notes in class, jot down any questions you have right away. Then, after class, fill in the rest (at least three).


What should you ask? Think of complicated questions that aren’t answered in your notes. Ask yourself to compare, explain, and predict.


If you make all the questions too easy, they won’t be very helpful.


The summary section

This section is the simplest and most straightforward: put the notes you took into your own words. Your summary could be a venn-diagram, tree chart, or a paragraph. Like the notes section, the format is not important.


If you can paraphrase the notes, explain them to yourself, then you’ll internalize them.


Review your notes…Seriously

The secret to getting stellar test scores is to review your notes regularly. If you spend five minutes every day looking over your notes and quizzing yourself, you can avoid a three hour session the day before a test.


Here’s how to review your notes

The questions you wrote down earlier will make life a breeze. They’re like pre-made flash cards. Write out answers like an essay or just say the answer out loud.


After you’ve gotten each one right (without peeking at your notes), write down any new ones that come to mind. You can answer these next time you review.


Then fill in any gaps by quickly reading over your summary and notes sections.


That’s it!


It’s super easy and sure to help you retain the info.


*Don’t feel obligated to review all your notes every day. Review a few pages from different sections and then choose different ones the next day.



Cornell notes may seem like they take some extra time. And, at first, they do. But, if used effectively, they’ll help you retain and apply information in the long run.


What do you think?

Do you have questions about anything I’ve mentioned above? Please let me know in the comments below. And, if you have any other strategies or comments, we’d love to hear those as well!


Works Cited:


Friedman, Michael C. Notes on Note-Taking: Review of Research and Insights for Students and Instructors. Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching. Harvard University. Rep.


Quintus, L., Borr, M., Duffield, S., Napoleon, L., & Welch, A. (2012). The impact of the Cornell note-taking method on students’ performance in a high school family and consumer sciences class. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 30(1), 27-38. Available at

Sam Burian

The founder of Study Forth. Sam graduated top 10 in his class and is attending St. Olaf College to major in economics. Sam strives to help himself and others be the best they can. He hopes to motivate other high schoolers and give them the resources they need to thrive.