Overview of the Cornell Method

The Cornell Method is like creating the epic tale of Cinderella. First, you have the main idea: Cinderella, a young girl mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters. which becomes the foundation of your story.

Next, you expand on this main idea by adding more information and details. Just like Cinderella's fairy godmother comes to her aid, you include important elements (cues) like the fairy godmother, the magical transformation, the glass slipper, and the prince. These details bring the story to life and make it more engaging.

Finally, in the end, you summarize the entire story (summary section). You bring together all the key elements and plot points like Cinderella escaping her harsh life and ultimately marrying the prince. This summary allows you to see the bigger picture and understand how everything connects.

Using the Cornell Method in your studies works in a similar way. You start with a main idea or topic, then expand on it by taking detailed notes and capturing important facts, examples, explanations, and questions. Finally, you summarize the key points, bringing everything together in a concise and logical way.

By following the Cornell Method, you create a well-structured and comprehensive set of notes that is easy to understand and remember. Just like the epic story of Cinderella, your notes tell a cohesive tale, making it easier for you to recall and apply the information when you need it.

The Cornell method offers a practical and enchanting approach for anyone, even if you're not an expert, to grasp complex topics and retain information effectively.

Difficulty level: Easy

Process of the Cornell Method

The Cornell note-taking method relies on a five-word “R” rule (Record, Reduce, Recite, Reflect, Review) that depicts the 5 step process of this method.

1- Record: Divide your paper into 3 columns: a narrow column on the left side of your paper for cues (1-2 word titles for key concepts & keywords), a wider column on the right side to take notes elaborating the concepts, and a 2-inch margin at the bottom for a summary on the topic you are creating notes on.

Let's assume you have a lecture on “The Inner Planets” where the professor discussed about Mercury & Venus. The topic of your notes could be “The Inner Planets”.

Mercury & Venus can be kept as cues in the left corner of your notes.

While under the right section, you can mention details about Mercury and Venus in a listicle form. Such as

Topic - The Inner PlanetsNotes:
  • Closest to the sun
  • Weak gravitational forces so no atmosphere
  • Has a very short year, but long days
  • Similar size to Earth
  • It has a really hot temperature
  • Rotates east to west
Summary SectionIn these notes, I learned about Mercury and Venus along with their characteristics such as their rotation direction, distance from the sun, size, temperature, and other such factors that helped me understand more about these planets.

2- Reduce: During the "Reduce" step of the Cornell method, carefully review your notes to extract key information. This process involves developing questions that stem from your notes, which serve as focal points for your studies. By creating questions, you can delve deeper into the topic, facilitating a better understanding and aiding in memorization.

The questions should be specific, guiding your exploration and analysis of the material. For example, as we are talking about the inner planets, you could generate questions like What are the characteristics of Mercury and Venus? or How do the planets rotate around the sun? Additionally, you can add cues, such as keywords (Mercury and Venus work as our cues in this example) or visual representations, to jog your memory during the review. These cues act as prompts, helping you recall the associated information and reinforcing your learning.

CuesName, Date, Topic, Class
Keywords & key concepts (Written during the class)
  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Main points
  • Bullet points
  • Diagrams
  • Outlines
  • Leave space between topics
Questions based on your notes (after the lecture)
  • How do the planets revolve around the sun?
  • What are the characteristics of Mercury and Venus?
Summary SectioIn these notes, I learned about Mercury and Venus along with their characteristics such as their rotation direction, distance from the sun, size, temperature, and other such factors that helped me understand more about these planets

3- Recite: As we have been studying the inner planets using the Cornell method. After creating questions based on your notes, such as What are the characteristics of Mercury and Venus? and How do the planets revolve around the sun? you are ready to recite the information.

To recite using the questions, cover up the notes or the detailed section of your notes that provides the answers. Start with the first question, “What are the characteristics of Mercury and Venus?” and try to recall and explain those characteristics such as Mercury being closest to the sun, Venus having a similar size to the sun, and Mercury having a very short year, but long days.

After reciting the information for that question, move to the next question and continue this process for each question you created. By reciting the information under different cues, you actively engage in the learning process, strengthening your memory and understanding of the topics. It helps you solidify your knowledge, identify areas where you may need further review, and builds your confidence in recalling the information independently.

4- Reflect: Under this step, you need to write the basics down and take time to figure out more complex questions that your notes draw attention to. The summary section is also developed in this stage and is a crucial component of the Cornell method, as it allows you to condense and consolidate your notes into a concise overview.

As we developed notes about the inner planets using this method, the summary content should highlight the essential points that you have captured during your note-taking process. The summary of the inner planets would be:

“The Inner Planets: In these notes, I discussed about Mercury and Venus along with their characteristics such as their rotation direction, distance from the sun, size, temperature, and other such factors that helped me understand more about these planets.”

5- Review: At last, review your notes for 10-12 minutes every week which will help you keep a clear image of topics.

Pros & Cons of the Cornell Method


1. Structure: The Cornell Method provides you with a structured framework that enhances organization and understanding.

2. Key Concepts: It encourages the identification of key concepts, helping you focus on the most important information

3. Review Efficiency: The method includes a separate section for summarizing and reviewing your notes, making exam preparation more efficient.


1. Time-Intensive: The Cornell Method can be time-consuming, especially when initially setting up the note-taking format.

2. Limited Flexibility: The structured format might not suit everyone's note-taking style or adapt to diverse content types.

When to use the Cornell Method for note taking

When to use the Cornell Method for note taking

The Cornell Method offers you a versatile approach to note-taking that can be customized for different situations and subjects. It presents a structured system that promotes active learning, critical thinking, and efficient review, making it adaptable and effective for organizing and retaining information. Let's explore the various scenarios where you can apply the Cornell Method:

1. During lectures or presentations: As discussed above the Cornell Method is highly valuable for capturing and organizing information during your lectures or presentations. It encourages your active engagement, enables you to take effective notes, and helps you identify key concepts and main ideas.

2. Studying intricate subjects: When you're dealing with complex subjects that involve a vast amount of information, the Cornell Method becomes advantageous. It provides you with a structured approach to condensing and reviewing material, thereby facilitating your comprehension and retention.

3. Research and reading: You can implement the Cornell Method while conducting research or reading academic texts. It assists you in extracting essential details, documenting your thoughts and observations, and establishing connections between different sources or concepts.

4. Exam preparation: The Cornell Method serves as an excellent tool for your exam preparation. The systematic format of the notes, featuring main ideas, supporting details, and summary sections, streamlines your process of reviewing and revising the material efficiently.

5. Collaborative learning: In group study or collaborative learning environments, the Cornell Method enhances effective group discussions. Each member can contribute their own notes and insights, while the summary sections provide a foundation for shared understanding and review.

6. Self-reflection: You can employ the Cornell Method for personal reflection and self-improvement purposes. Additionally, you can use Gibb's reflective cycle to get better insights into your learning practices. Later, by recording your thoughts, insights, and questions, you can track your progress, identify patterns, and develop a deeper understanding of a subject or your own cognitive processes.