50+ Sample Cornell Note Templates

What is a Cornell Note?

The Cornell note-taking technique helps the students better record, absorb, and understand their lectures. The method avoids superficial memorization of concepts that happens with word-for-word note-taking. Additionally, it is more detailed than condensing a lot of ideas into a vague outline. Some things are difficult to understand when they appear as separate sections of an outline. This is especially true when the interaction of the different concepts matter as much as the individual. The spatial organization of Cornell notes encourages students to write only essential details during the class and perform their synthesis of the lesson after. The structure lets you easily run through your notes when it is your schedule to study.

The Body of a Cornell Note

On a typical sheet of paper, a Cornell note appears in three to four sections. It comes in different measurements because the handwriting and preference of people also vary. In any case, this note-taking technique has a determined structure that enables students to practice the studying and learning strategy as intended.

Heading: The optional topmost section occupies the entire width of the paper and ranges from one to two inches from the top margin. You can write the title of the notes, like “The Chemistry of Acids and Bases.” If you rather save this space for your notes, you can choose to skip this section. However, you have to make sure that you can find this page easily without its heading.Comments: This longitudinal section is on the left page. You can write the main ideas, keywords, and questions in this column. This is like the labels of the sections and shelves in the library, which will help you navigate easily through your notes to find the information you are looking for. The questions you write here will also help you study efficiently as your exam schedule draws nearer.Main Column: This section occupies the most space of the paper. You can write all the important information from your lecture on this column. This is where you will input whatever the instructor discussed in class. You may also use symbols and abbreviations here, just make sure to remember what these stand for. In addition to that, you should avoid writing every word mentioned in class, as this defeats the purpose of improving how you take down notes.Summary: After you have synthesized the notes, you can summarize the ideas for review. However, don’t sweat on this during lectures yet. You will be writing the summary during your review session. That is when you have already synthesized the lessons. Remember that this section should be in your own words. That is why you need to have a better grasp of the discussion first before writing a summary.

Technology Comes to Class

Going paperless was unthinkable for a student twenty years ago. Today, you can walk into a classroom and find students typing on their keyboards as their teacher talks in front. They can view on their laptops and tablets the same lecture slides their professors are displaying on a screen. Indeed, schools across the world have adopted the use of projector screens and television units in their classrooms. Teachers still write on chalkboards and whiteboards, but a significant amount of the lecture is conveniently flashed on a screen.

This phenomenon is not limited to teaching strategies, though. Technology is also displacing handwritten notes in favor of computers and smartphones. Lecture slides let students retrieve the exact copy of the discussion of last week’s Math class from their phones and laptops. These notes taken using our laptops and tablets can be stored longer in a storage device or a cloud for future reference. Apps like Evernote, Google Drive, and Dropbox enable easy sharing of notes with others. Students also have the option to print a physical copy of the notes.

If digital lecture notes is the direction that future note-taking will go, why haven’t we discarded manually recording the discussion in our notebooks? Even with the digital alternative, students still go through the trouble of writing down their notes on a physical paper. There is also a wave of people on social media platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest, that flaunt their handwritten lecture notes as an aesthetic. Regardless, aesthetics and online validation aren’t our main drive for writing notes in class.

The Write Way to Remember

For us to remember information, our elders taught us to write it down as they have been taught by their elders who were also told by the ones who came before them. If we trace the history of why we write to remember, we would find out that it was just the way things were: a cycle of older people teaching young people. The phenomenon is deeply entrenched in us is because it works. Aside from that, science backs the claims that writing helps you remember the essential things.

Intricacies of Memory Recall

When we read or hear information, sensory receptors in our eyes or ears transmit it as signals to the brain for processing. Our brain stores this information in our short-term memory. When we write the information we read or heard, things get a little complicated since it is hard to synchronize writing and hearing the words in real-time. We can’t write every word in a long speech as it is being spoken. Going for a less for more approach, we choose keywords that would illustrate the same point to us. In doing so, we first process the content to get its main points. The next step is writing what we understood.

A Forbes article mentioned that writing the information that we read or heard engages multiple areas in our brain and body. First, our brains retrieve the information we received. Without thinking about it, we translate and transcribe the information into language. We then access the ‘codes’ for such in our long-term memory bank. As we are writing, we have continuous feedback of information to translate our thoughts into words correctly. While our hands write, our eyes are paying close attention to what we are writing. Every line, twist, and curve of a letter is meticulously supervised so that we will write a, instead of o. The whole while, we are also organizing our thoughts to form an accurate and coherent illustration of ideas.

Pen Trumps the Keyboard

All these tasks stimulate different parts of the brain. Writing down the information, instead of just reading or typing them, provides a more in-depth treatment of the information because of the multiple processes involved in translating signals and impulses into text. In this way, writing things down helps us remember them better later.

Unlike writing, we don’t find the need to put in as much work in what we are encoding as our fingers fly over the keyboard. Typing doesn’t activate as many areas in our brain as writing. And when we type our notes, we trade-off processing of information for the speed of its input. A better understanding of the lecture seems to be a steep price to pay for wanting to record more info fast. It is in this way that students who record their notes by hand win.

How To Apply the Cornell Notes Strategy

Wouldn’t it be neat to actually mean your “Yes” when the teacher asks if you understood the discussion? You can start with the little things like taking good notes in class. Improve your academic performance this semester by using the Cornell note-taking strategy. Here is how you can successfully practice the method.

Step 1: Read Before Your Class

It always pays to be prepared. Before you come to class, you should have an idea of what the lesson would be. Your teacher may have given a reading assignment that you forgot to note on your printable calendar. You can also consult your syllabus to track your academic schedule for the semester. Do a short reading about the upcoming topics so that you will have a bigger picture of what the next lecture would be. That way, you will know the important details you will write in your notebook. You can save space and create a cohesive flow of ideas in your notes.

Step 2: Draft a Layout in Advance

You should have your note-taking format ready. It takes a short time to draw the respective columns in your notebook. You can estimate the amount of space you would use for each section. It also helps if you organize the content of your notes. Doing so enables you to know when to stop writing to leave space for your summary and comment sections. When you have not established the boundaries on the page, you might just write all over it, or you may have left too little space for the other sections. Perhaps, you have left too much space that you weren’t able to take note of additional relevant information.

Step 3: Use Symbols and Diagrams

It is hard to follow the lecture in real-time if you are copying every word that your teacher says. You can omit words like the, or, and, and because or replace these with dashes and arrows. That way, you can save time and catch up with the discussion. Bear in mind that your notes are for you, so you can make symbols that you can understand when you are studying later. You can even come up with a chart for your self-explanatory symbols so that you will be consistent throughout every note-taking activity. Using symbols and diagrams that you developed will improve your note-writing speed.

Step 4: Synthesize After Your Class

When you reach home or your dorm room, you can work on your notes while the lesson is still fresh in your head. Go through what you have written and find the main idea of the text. Add comments and lesson highlights to help yourself study for future exams. In the comment column, you can develop questions that are answered by the content in the next column. You can write, “What is biology?” in the left column right next to the definition of the discipline in the right column. If you can make the questions for the answers that were already given, you have learned something from your class.

Step 5: Read, Recall, Repeat

When you review, you should have a study plan for how you can maximize your time. Two of the effective studying methods are reading aloud and teaching the lesson to others. You can combine these two during your study time. While you are reviewing, read and explain the lesson to yourself as if you were the teacher. Then, answer the questions that you wrote without reading your notes in the right column. Furthermore, including clues and keywords in the left column helps you recall the content. Doing this repeatedly will help you remember what you have learned. And instead of just regurgitating what you wrote, you can appreciate the lesson more when you can apply it to real-life scenarios.

Step 6: Give a Summary

Your ability to summarize and simplify a long discussion into a more digestible format is a good measure of your comprehension of the lesson. A good summary is not void of depth or unnecessarily verbose. You can include a summary after every page or after every chapter, whichever is appropriate. You can begin your studying session by reading your recap and start expounding on the specifics from there.


Is the Cornell method effective?

Cornell note-taking is an efficient recording and studying method. Because our brain is not a bottomless pit where we can store infinite amounts of information, it filters relevant and important information. This note-taking strategy helps you tell your brain that what you are learning is important. Also, it encourages understanding of learning material through its spatial structure and its practices.

What are the five Rs of the Cornell method?

The Cornell notes method teaches not only how to take good notes but how to use them as well. You have to record lecture notes in your notebook. After that, you synthesize and reduce all the information into keywords and questions. When you study, recite and explain the lesson to yourself. To better understand and remember the lesson, reflect on how you can apply the content in real life. Of course, you also have to study your notes. Review what you have written. Provide a summary that captures the gist of the lecture.

What is the disadvantage of Cornell notes?

Although the strategy is beneficial, it does not apply to all people. Some people are not comfortable taking after a format of note-taking. They learn best when they can have their way of doing things. They find that the determinate way of note-taking restricts their ideas and learning. Learning is not a linear pathway, and people are free to develop their roadmap to understanding.

The Cornell note-taking method may take a little getting used to. After all, we are pre-conditioned to fill our notebook pages from left to right and top to bottom. With practice, this note-taking method can help us study smarter and better for related undertakings. Because we scratched deeper than superficial learning, we can retain the information longer. We won’t feel disoriented and lost as we transition into more specialized disciplines later in our careers. And isn’t that the reason why we go to school?