Note Taking

Cornell Note taking diagram

The Cornell Note Taking System

The Cornell note taking system was developed by Walter Pauk, an emeritus professor of education at Cornell University. Learn more about this note taking framework by reading Chapter 5 in Pauk's book, How to Study in College (5th ed.).

Distinctive features

  • Uses a unique page layout with large margins. See the diagram above.


Area 1 -- The Note Taking Area

  • The space to the right of the vertical margin is where you actually record your notes during the lecture.

  • Pick a note-taking format with which you are comfortable.

  • Do not attempt to transcribe verbatim every word spoken by the instructor. Separate the essential material from the non-essential.

  • Develop a system of abbreviations you understand, and emphasize key ideas, rather than the actual words used.

Area 2 -- The Cue Column

  • The space to the left of the vertical margin is reserved for a cue column.

  • Do not write in this area during the lecture.

  • When you review your notes, devise questions which the notes answer. These questions are the "cues" that should be written in the cue column.

Area 3 -- The Summary Space

  • Reserve space at the bottom of the page for a brief summary of your notes -- at most, only a few sentences.

  • This summary is useful for later review, and to help you see how specific facts fit into the broader landscape.

Adapted from: Pauk, W. (2001) How to Study in College, 7th edition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.


Concept Mapping   


Concept mapping is used to organize related information in a visual manner. Study maps clearly and concisely demonstrate hierarchical relationships among the topic, main ideas, and supporting details or pertinent course material.

Mapping is a way of picturing course content that enhances retrievability of the information on a test. Maps are useful because they reduce large amounts of information.

Mapping helps you to learn actively. The maps are highly individualized, representing information in a unique and personal way. Structuring the map allows you to see interrelationships in the information.

When to map

  • When a course can be organized by topics or concepts.

  • When knowing a structure, system, operation process, or sequence of events is integral to understanding course material.

  • When summarizing, outlining, or otherwise reducing content for an exam.

How to map

  1. Select a topic/concept on the basis of significance to the course.

  2. Decide on how to categorize the information: Does something take place over time? Can an idea be broken down neatly into constituent parts? Is there a hierarchical relationship among the elements of the topic or concept?

  3. Write each main idea, major heading, or term on a separate, small slip of paper or index card. Divide these into piles under major divisions.

  4. Move the card or papers around until the map is accurate and you have decided the appropriate position for each card. You may find yourself adding or discarding cards.

  5. If steps 3 and 4 are too burdensome, simply concept as you go along.

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