We’ve all been there. We have sat through a training or presentation. All throughout it we were scribbling insightful notes, focused on capturing the core message of the content. Page after page of ink accumulates into what appears a productive output of our time well spent.

Now – fast forward a few weeks. We find the torn out sheets of our notebook under the binder from the workshop. We figure we should take a look and refresh our memory of all the important learnings. It doesn’t take long to realize that whatever we wrote down and found meaningful that day is now as clear as the 9th grade biology.So, is there a way to take better notes? Here’s one system that I’m going to try and implement – The Cornell Note Taking System 

  • Use a full sized piece of paper for your notes. You need plenty of space so your notes don’t get fragmented and disorderly. 
  • Divide the page into two portions by drawing a line 2.5 inches (5 cm) from the left margin of the page. This is the cue column.
  • On the right of the cue column is the note-taking column. This is where you put down your notes.
  • Two inches (4 cm) above the bottom of the page, now draw a line across the page. This is where you summarize your notes on the page.  

[Click here for a Word template from diyplanner.com]

Cue Column← 2.5inches →(5cms) Note Taking Column
    ↑2 inches (4 cms)                For Summary     ↓

Using The Cornell System

Using the Cornell note taking system involves three main stages.

  • Observing – Listen and decide what you will write down, based on what you hear, read and discuss.
  • Recording – Write down you notes during and after the event.
  • Reviewing – To help you learn the information and recall it in the future, keep reviewing what you have written.

Observation and Recording Your Notes:

Create a note-taking page in the Cornell format. Write down your notes in the note-taking column. Make them as detailed as necessary, along with diagrams and examples. Immediately after the event, use the cue column to write down keywords or key phrases or actions. These are words or phrases that sum up the detailed notes in the note-taking column. You can turn your keywords/key phrases into questions too. Now revisit the notes again to write a summary in the bottom summary section of your notes page.By revisiting the notes immediately to write the key words and summaries, you will be able to write and review while the whole event is still fresh in your mind.

Reviewing Information:

Using the tool helps you recall and recapture what you heard. The system also allows you to self-test if you need to memorize what you’ve learned. Take a blank sheet to cover the notes in the note-taking column. Form questions of your keywords and key phrases. Answer the questions from the information you had written down. Check your answers against the notes in the note-taking column. Continue repeating the process until you can recall all that you require to retain. To ensure you have long term recall of the information, repeat the process again several days and then weeks afterwards.