REVIEW: Categorizing with Cornel Notes

A diagram showing a sheet of lined paper divided into the Cornell Notes method of note-taking


Princess Faye Tabios, Features Co-Editor

Cornell notes, a system of note-taking developed by Dr. Walter Pauk, a professor who taught at Cornell University in the 1950s. It is designed to consist of four categories; the title at the top, keywords and questions on the left, notes on the right, and a summaries tab located at the bottom of the page.

What Are Cornell Notes For?

The Cornell notes method is a way for students to take information and organize it into separate branches that correspond to the topic of any lesson. What this format does is allow students to interact with their notes and remember details in an orderly form. This means that when a student rediscovers their notes for a test, they have the option to differentiate larger bodies of text from key information. Students will then be led to question information before summarizing their notes at the very end. 

“Students who really interact with their notes typically do a lot better on the test,” says Mr. Miller, a government and former AVID teacher at Vanden High School. His previous role in AVID required him to teach Cornell notes to students for college preparation. 

Now he requires his students in government to work on their notes every two weeks before test-taking.

Kurtis Sheff, an AVID student at Rodriguez High School states that compared to other forms of note-taking, Cornell notes make notes more legible and easier to read compared to studying with paragraphs of text copied from a book. The purpose of Cornell notes is to ensure that students have an easier time transmitting information into long-term memory. 

Creating a Title and Writing Notes

When starting Cornell notes, include a title at the top and a main notes section below on the right-hand side of the paper. 

While the title section allows students to identify the topics they are looking to study, students record information in the main notes section. Images of charts, graphs, and symbols may also be included in this section. 

If students were to return to their text at the end of the year where the majority of exams take place, they can find the topic in the title. Having a title lets students know the field of information that is being covered if they were to forget the location of their notes. Sheff states that he prefers to keep his titles brief so it does not take too much space on the page.

Below the title, the main notes section contains details from the lesson that students label as significant, rather than taking on the appearance of large paragraphs. It is also where students have the option to draw out charts, graphs, and other images to represent the notes they took. 

Abudalla Mulumba, a senior at Vanden High School, recommends keeping the main notes section as simple as possible, leaving out unnecessary information. 

Implementing Keywords, Questions, and Writing Out Summaries

After the title and main ideas section, there are two other sections in Cornell notes; keywords and questions, and the summary section. These two sections represent the students’ responses to their notes. Questions and keywords section are placed in the left quadrant, next to specific main ideas, while the summary section takes every main idea and shortens them into one paragraph—or 3-5 sentences. 

After completing the title and main notes section, students start the next stage of their Cornell notes page by questioning the main ideas they have written and further condensing them into keywords. 

Once the three previous sections are complete, students can go on to write the summary of their notes. This section takes every main idea and compresses it down into a paragraph that summarizes the entire lesson. 

Is It Worth It? Reviews from Students

When it comes to Cornell notes, students at Vanden have similar opinions of this system. They conclude that this system excels in getting students to return to their notes, but seniors creating questions did not deliver the results they were looking for.

“I think that Cornell Notes are a nice and simple way of keeping the notes for your classes organized and well put together,” says Kaitlynn Capps, a senior at Vanden High School who looks for emphasis in vocabulary when writing out notes, while keeping the layout split up into sections. 

When writing questions, Mr. Miller recommends his government class come up with questions based on how he would ask them during class or in tests in hopes that they would respond with answers that are just as complex. Students at Vanden experience setbacks in this area of studying.

“You could never truly come up with a question that will match in a test which could be extremely detrimental,” says Mulumba.

Similar to Mulumba, seniors Kaitlynn Capps and Aaliyah Jean Villarette, find creating questions in Cornell notes to contrast from how they learn in general. 

Students who are looking for a system with a categorized format should look to using the Cornell notes method, though a percentage of students struggle with the questions portion due to the extension of steps it takes to develop them. 

“The key to Cornell notes is to write your notes in a way that you can understand,” says Sheff.