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Cornell Note Taking System: What is It and How to Use It?


2023-11-01 17:29:07 • Filed to: PDF App Edit Tips • Proven solutions

The Cornell note taking system first devised at Cornell University is a fantastic educational 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 Cornell note-taking method has stood the test of time and remains popular today.

Here let's look a little more in-depth now at how the Cornell note taking works, and how to use it effectively in study.

What is Cornell note taking?

cornell note taking method

Developed by Walter Pauk at Cornell University in the 1940s, Cornell note-taking is a method for taking notes by dividing your paper into specific sections to record key information. It is designed to help students organize and review their notes more 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 Cornell note taking system is set up as it is, you are sure to enjoy using it in your studies.

How to take Cornell note

Every Cornell note will feature a page with four columns: top block, cue column, note-taking column, and summaries.

Title (optional)

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

Note-taking column

The Note-taking column is the main part of the page (AKA the body) and 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; the US, Canada, and Mexico. So the Cornell note body expands on key points and provides context.

Ultimately, the body is the most important part of the Cornell note-taking system. So it's always important to really focus on writing with precision in this section. The great thing about the Cornell note-taking system is that it is very simple. 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 Cornell note-taking method is so effective.

Cue column

The cue column on 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 Cornell note taking helps a reader to write organized notes, and quickly pinpoint where relevant content is.


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 Cornell note 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!

Cornell note taking template in PDF

A Cornell note-taking system can be set up with traditional pen and paper, and also digitally. For example, use a digital Cornell note taking template in PDF. Compared to traditional pen and paper, taking Cornell notes digitally makes the notes easier to edit and keep track of. If you make a mistake, it's also really easy to remove content while keeping the system in your notes.

The quickest way to take Cornell notes is to download a Cornell note-taking PDF template and then edit with a PDF editor. Wondershare PDFelement - PDF Editor is an easy-to-use PDF editor that lets you take Cornell notes on iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows, and Mac like a breeze. Here is how PDFelement can help take notes and make study more efficient.

take cornell note in pdf

  • Create Cornell notes in PDF easily from a PDF, Word, or Google Docs template or from scratch.
  • Add or edit notes in PDF.
  • Add comments, and annotations to your notes, ebooks, and research papers in PDF easily.
  • Summarize, rewrite, proofread, ask PDF with AI assistant powered by ChatGPT.
  • Convert Cornell notes to PDF, Word, Excel, Text, and more.
  • Combine or split Cornell notes in PDF.
cornell note template pdf

Cornell note taking template in Google Docs, Word

You can easily create a Cornell note in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Here are the steps.

  • Open a new Word document.
  • You can start by creating the cue & note-taking column. Insert a table of 2 columns and 30-40 rows.
  • Select the first column and click Merge Cells. Here you have the cue column.
  • Select the second column and customize the Height as you like.
  • Then enter another table on the bottom as the summaries column

There are also many free Cornell note templates in .doc, .docx that you can download and use directly.

cornell note template word

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Elise Williams

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