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Creating Cornell Notes

28 Jul 2017

There are many variations to the basic Cornell Study Notes template but they are all similar to the manual format that is described on this page. If you prefer using Cornell notes in a computerized form on a laptop device remember to make frequent backups!


To begin your manual note making using Walter Pauk's Cornell Notes use a pencil to divide a page in a notepad into four sections as shown in the image.

Each section in the Cornell Notes layout has a specific purpose which when used correctly becomes a very effective learning system.

The right-side column is roughly twice as wide as the left-side column. The top and bottom sections are about 2 cm high so most of the page is available for writing your study notes.

Before any lecture, seminar, or tutorial prepare 2-3 pages in a notepad and fill in the top section on the first note page with information such as the course number, the lecture title, and the date. You need this info for filing your notes later.


During a lecture short notes, diagrams, and key information are written in the section on the wider right-side column (shown as green). Allow plenty of clear space of at least 1 cm above and below each point you note. This gives you space for additions and editing as the lecture progresses.

Some tutors restate points during the lecture. Take note when that happens and add an 'NB' so you remember that it may be important as it was mentioned more than once. Add related new information in the 1 cm space that you provided for such eventualities.


Your memory of lecture details will fade quite quickly so as soon as possible tidy up the notes to make them easier to read.

Do this before your memory of the lecture is forgotten. Underline or highlight important points, but don't rewrite lecture notes completely. It's enough to be able to read them.


At the end of the day, or at some suitable time during the day, try to recall what was said during the lecture and fill out the left-side of the notes (the yellow side in the diagram) with short questions or keywords that relate directly to the written notes that you made on the right-hand side of the page.

The aim now is to make key phrases or possible examination questions that link directly to the notes on the right.

Make Memory Cues! The questions and keywords on the left-side (yellow) of your Walter Pauk notes become memory cues to the answers on the right-side (green) so try to make the right-side information (green) stand out visually. Do this with small sketches, symbols, or colored highlighters.

Keep the questions and keywords at the same level on the page as the informative notes on the right-side, and keep the yellow side keywords simple!

At this stage you will have completed 3 sections on every page of your recent Walter Pauk Notes for one lecture. The bottom section will be used about 3 weeks after the notes were first made.


The basic requirement for all Walter Pauk's Cornell Notes is:

  • Left-side column: key-points/questions.
  • Right-side column: responses/answers.

With that basic concept clear it's easy to apply Walter Pauk's Cornell Notes method to all research reading and tutorial group notes.

Note taking from textbook reading is the same as for lecture notes but with the addition of the textbook title or journal source reference information in MLA or APA format.

For noting the reference position on a page simply notice how far down the page the reference is placed and note that point using a decimal. For example p33.8 is enough to record a quotation that is found 80% down on page 33.

The procedure for imprinting the reading research ideas in your longer-term memory is exactly the same as the recall and recitation used for lecture note imprinting.

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