Chadron State College
Chadron State College

Tips for Effective Note Taking

The Cornell system for taking notes is designed to save time and be highly efficient. There is no rewriting or retyping of your notes. It is a "do it right in the first place" system.

  • First Step - Preparation

Use a large, loose-leaf notebook.

Use only one side of the paper. (then you can lay your notes out to see the direction of a lecture.)

Draw a vertical line 2 1/2 inches from the left side of you paper. This is the recall column. Notes will be taken to the right of this margin. Later key words or phrases can be written in the recall column.

  • Second Step - During the lecture

Record notes in paragraph form.

Capture general ideas, not illustrative ideas.

Skip lines to show end of ideas or thoughts.

Using abbreviations will save you time.

Write legibly.

  • Third Step - After the lecture

Organize and review

There are several good reasons for organizing and reviewing your notes as soon as possible after the lecture. While the lecture is still fresh in your mind, you can fill in from memory examples and facts which you did not have time to write down during the lecture.  More over, you can recall what parts of the lecture were unclear to you so that you can consult your teacher, a classmate, your text, or additional readings for further information.

Immediate review results in better retention than review after a longer period of time. Unless a student reviews within 24 hours after the lecture or at least before the next lecture, his retention will drop; and he will be relearning rather than reviewing.

  • Annotate, don't recopy notes

The following suggestions for annotating may be helpful:

Underline key statements or important concepts.

Use asterisks or other signal marks to indicate importance.

Use margins or blank pages for coordinating notes with the text. Perhaps indicate relevant pages of the text beside the corresponding information in the notes.

Use a key and a summary.

Use the recall column you drew to keep a key to important names, formulas, dates, concepts, and the like. This forces you to anticipate questions of an objective nature and provides specific facts that you need to develop essays.

Use the other margin to write a short summary of the topics on the page, relating the contents of the page to the whole lecture or to the lecture of the day before.
Condensing the notes in this way not only helps you to learn them but also prepares you for the kind of thinking required on essay exams and many so-called "objective" exams.