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What Is Cornell Note Taking System and How to Use It

Sep 25,2019 • Filed to: PDF App • Proven solutions

The Cornell note taking system (CNS) first devised at Cornell University is a fantastic education aid. In today's modern economy students are required to learn in a very fast-paced environment, so it is more important than ever to ensure the techniques they use optimize their learning effectively. Devised in the 1940's, the CNS has stood the test of time and remains popular today.

For students looking to enhance their learning skills, the CNS is an outstanding selection. Let's look a little more in-depth now at how the CNS works, and how to use it effectively in study. Once we're done you'll understand the Cornell note taking method and how to take Cornell notes.

cornell note taking method

At its heart, the CNS is a strong but simple system for taking notes effectively. This simplicity is why so many people like it. While it can look a little confusing at the start, once you have an understanding of why the CNS is setup as it is, you are sure to enjoy using it in your studies.

Every CNS will feature a page with four columns, and the first column at the top is very simple. It's where the course title should be written, e.g. 'Introduction to Economics', or 'Philosophy 101'. After this, the page will have its three main sections divided: one big bottom column (often known as the footer), and two columns in the main part of the page, separating the margin and the body. Each section has an independent purpose, but as a whole works in harmony together.

cornell note taking

The left side of the page that forms the margin is where key points from the content are written. For example, if studying geography, it is here major continents like 'Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Europe' would be written. By writing major points in the margin, the CNS helps a reader to write organized notes, and quickly pinpoint where relevant content is.

The main part of the page (AKA the body) is where the margin's information will be expanded on. For example, alongside 'Asia' in the margin, you will write in the body that the continent has a population of 4.436 billion. You will write next to North America this continent has three countries; Canada, the U.S,, and Mexico. So the CNS body expands on key points and provides context.

Ultimately, the body is the most important part of the CNS system. So it's always important to really focus on writing with precision in this section. The great thing about the CNS it is makes this very easy to do. Because you have written a key topic in your margin, making links and associations in the body with a key point is seamless. That's why the CNS is so effective.

Finally, there is the summary section at the bottom of the page. Within the footer a brief conclusion on the content that features in the margin and the body is really useful. This should be done not only at the end of a class or lecture, but at the end of every single page. Conclusions should always answer the question 'why is this important?', and the summary should answer it.

cornell note taking system

When the CNS is used in this way, it becomes an incredibly powerful tool for education. A margin that introduces a topic, a body that expands on it, and a footer that summarizes it. And it does this on each and every page! The CNS makes a student more effective in note taking, helps them absorb information faster, and then makes it easier to revisit content when it comes time to revise for exams.

A Cornell note taking system can be setup with traditional pen and paper, and also digitally. Each method can be good, but there are many extra advantages of using a digital Cornell note taking template. The notes are really easy to keep track of, and also really easy to edit. If you do make a mistake, it's also really easy to remove content while keeping the system in your notes.

Among the many apps available which feature a CNS, there are a few standouts. Cornell notes by Ronald Bernaldo is good. Also Cornell Notes by iGoWrite. These 2 are very good, but there is also a lot of other great apps out there too. Provided they have a clear structure, making it easy for you to use the CNS, you should find a number of apps that suit your needs and goals.


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Elise Williams

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