How to use the Cornell Note Taking method: Two column notes

Who might this technique be useful for?: Anyone who wants to improve their note taking skills, especially those who are looking for ways to increase their memory retention and confidence in lectures.

What study skills challenges can this app help you overcome?: Note-taking, memory retention.

What is the tool or study skills strategy?: The Cornell method of note taking.

Many students find the Cornell method useful as it:

  • Encourages them to read their lecture slides in advance on their session so that they can look up any unfamiliar words or concepts. Looking up unfamiliar content can help to increase understanding during the session and support students with taking a more active part in their lecturers as they have greater confidence in their understanding of the material.
  • This method of note-taking encourages the individual to revisit their notes a number of times to edit and summarise the material. This supports memory retention.

The are four steps to follow:

1. Document

  • Divide your paper into the following shape: one segment at the top, two columns (the left hand column being roughly half the size of the right hand column) followed by a segment at the bottom.


  • Write the topic and date at the top. The large box on the right is for notes and drawings, it’s a good idea to skip lines between points so you have room to add later, you may also find it helpful to use abbreviations (that you will remember!)
  • At degree level you are likely to have multiple pages of notes for each teaching session, so instead of an ‘I’ You might prefer to separate multiple pages in the following way:
note paper divided on the top and the left hand side
Page 1 Example of modified Cornell Method
screen shot of note paper split on the left hand side
Page 2 Example of modified Cornell Method. This page can be repeated as many times as necessary.
Page 3 Example of modified Cornell Method

2. Look up unfamiliar terminology and concepts

  • Read through your lecture slides in advance of the session and look up any unfamiliar terminology and concepts, adding these definitions to the left-hand side.

3. Summarise (After the lecture and especially within 24 hours)

  • Read through your notes. Make any amendments or additions whilst the material is still relatively fresh in your mind.
  • Summarise the main points in the space at the bottom of each page.
  • Now, in the left-hand column, note down the key ideas or words from your notes on the right. Formulate these into questions.
  • COVER UP your notes in the right-hand column, and see how well you can answer the key questions from memory.
  • Re-format the notes: highlight, clarify, expand, make connections and generally refine your notes.

This method should help you to you engage with the material and transfer it from your short-term to your long-term memory.

4. Revise

After the lecture, during the following week and as many times as you need to afterwards, revise the material.

A short video explaining some of the points of Cornell Notetaking is available below.


Now, everyone learns in different ways, I can see the benefits of this method in that it involves summarising and understanding the material before the revision stage. I personally prefer the CARE method in Audio NoteTaker, but it’s worth experimenting with different techniques and getting to grips with your personal learning style. I’m a visual learner who processes things best when I have comprehensive notes in Audio NoteTaker. I then move to MindView for revision and essay plans and then summarise in Word documents and convert to Audio for final revision.

It takes some time to become familiar with what works for you, and it’s really important to play around with your Assistive Technology if you haven’t already! Remember, if you have a DSA package, you can often request more software training from your Needs Assessor, or contact the DDSS if you don’t have contact with a Needs Assessor. If you do not have a DSA package and use the Assistive Technology available from the university library, you can contact for training and assistance.

Other posts within the note taking series include:

Thanks for reading,