Cornell Academic Study Method

An essential part of academic study is knowing how to make effective notes. For this the Cornell method is useful. Start by dividing a standard notepad page into four sections with three lines as shown in the template image below

cornell template

The right column is roughly twice as wide as the left column. The top and bottom sections are about 2 cm high. Just use a pen to mark the lines. The colours on the image are simply to clarify which column I'm referring to

Before a lecture, seminar, or tutorial prepare 2-3 pages in a notepad and fill with information such as the course number, the lecture title, and the date. This information helps when you file your notes for study

College and university students will collect several pages of notes from various lectures every day during a semester/term so having them neatly organised in a ring binder with coloured subject divides will help how you study for a test without having to work through a heap of disorganised notes stuffed into a shoe box!

Being organised and systematic will help how to study for a test and it's also a valuable employment skill. Employers love tidy people!


During a lectures or research activity write short notes, diagrams, and information in the right column (shown as green above) and allow a clear space of at least 1 cm above and below each point you note. Your personal preferences will affect how you study for a test but you can expect to add new information as you memorise the notes and think of new test questions. Leave a space for these thoughts in the right column (green)


At the end of each day recall what was said during the college lecture or ideas from your research and fill out the left-side of the note template (yellow) with short test questions. You need these because college study for an end of course test involves remembering the answers to these questions. The next few pages explain the details of how to study for a test

It's important to note that the quality of the test questions that you place in the left column (yellow) will affect your test paper grade

The question/phrase on the left-side (yellow) of your note template is the memory cue for the answer which is the note on the right-side (green) of the template. Make the right-side information (green) stand out visually with small sketches, symbols, or colored highlighters.

Keep the question/phrase at the same level on the page as the information it refers to and make the left hand side question/phrase very brief

Standard template

The basic template for the Cornell note taking method is:

1. Left-side column: Questions

2. Right-side column: Answers

With that basic concept clear it should be easy to apply the Cornell note taking method to all college lectures, seminars, tutorials, and your textbook reading


As your study course progresses you'll have many new ideas and new notes gained from your lectures and reading. When this happens it's time to use your own words to make completely new summary notes that combine the original notes with all additional reading and study information that you have gained

Trash the original notes page when you finish writing the new updated version which should contain new keyword questions, lecture summary notes, research reading notes, seminar notes, and any tutorial notes

By reflecting and re-arranging your study information in this manner you keep it relevant to your current understanding of course material and you strengthen your long-term memory which makes college exams easy to pass. You will soon discover that exams are enjoyable and an extension of your learning as you apply your growing body of information to the exam questions

Exam Preparation

You need to recite (speak out loud) your notes every day until the content is totally familiar and easily recalled

The method to use is;
- Cover the right side of the page
- Say aloud the questions
- Keep answers covered. Say the response
- Repeat for all keywords/questions
- Uncover answers
- Revise forgotten points

Recite and recall your college study notes daily until all points are memorized. After that do recitation twice-weekly, or as often as necessary to maintain 100% recall


Reflection is done when everything that you wrote at the original note taking stage is familiar and the answers to the questions in the left-side columns are fully memorized. If you get a flash of insight from the reflecting then that's the time to write a short memory note at page bottom in the space you provided when you drew the template lines. If you have no 'eureka' flash leave the bottom section blank

Maintaining Your Notes

Use a box or ring-binder to categorize your Cornell Note pages into 'Monthly', 'Weekly' and 'Daily' recitation. This will make the memorization process manageable and efficient

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