Taking Advantage of Cornell Without Going Ivy League

Cornell University is by all accounts a wonderful Ivy League institution. It's home to tens of thousands of students. Odds are, though, that you aren't going to go there. You can take advantage of a system developed at the school, though, that will make life a lot easier when you're trying to take notes while reading material, watching lectures, or even other videos.

Shockingly, it's called the Cornell Method, and while it is very simple, the benefits can extend beyond the two lines you need to make. Start with a sheet of notebook paper and draw a line vertically about two inches from the left. Do the same horizontally a few inches from the bottom. The biggest section is used for most of your notes. The left hand section gives you a chance to summarize topic areas. (Hint: if your professor goes by slides or uses an outline, those are good starting points).

To start, you want to leave the bottom blank. In fact, while you're getting used to the process, focus on taking notes so that when you review them the next day, they make sense to you. Then see if you can start writing down questions or keywords in the left-hand column without resorting to the hint above. While you don't have to, actively working to categorize the information will help it stick in your mind much more easily.

Now that you're comfortable with the first two sections, you want to take a look at the bottom row. That's the summary, and it allows you to get an overview of the lecture/video/what have you without having to stare at the entire page of notes. Many experts note that you should wait a day or so afterwards to try and write these out. It's a good idea as a second check that your note taking is working well for you, along with your keywords. However, once you get up to steam, feel free to write them whenever you want.

If you're having problems figuring out what the summary should look like, imagine that you're writing a paper about the day's notes. What would you want to cover? What points are critical? If you're still having trouble, take a look at our article on how to develop a thesis for a paper.

Remember, though, that the Cornell Method is just one option. As long as you find a note-taking strategy that is comfortable for you and easy to review, you'll be a lot more successful in your classes.

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