I thought I would share what I learned this week in my Life Skills class. My instructor introduced a system of taking notes called the Cornell Note-taking System. For me it is an entirely new way of taking notes, but the system has been around since 1950. It was created by Walter Pauk, an education professor at Cornell University, located in Ithaca, New York. The system shows how to take good notes, organize them, and review them to retain more information. It uses a process of five “Rs” for getting notes down on paper, organizing the material, and retaining the information.
The first step in preparing to take notes is to divide the paper into three parts. The first division line is drawn across the page approximately two inches or about five or six lines from the bottom of the page. A second line is drawn down the page making two columns; the column on the left should be two and a half inches wide. These lines should be dark.
The second step of preparation is to document the notes by writing the name of the course, the date, and the topic of the lecture at the top of each page. Now the paper is ready for note taking.
Record: During a lecture, we use the large note-taking column on the right of the page to record our notes. I abbreviate words and use symbols whenever possible as well as a combination of shorthand used in high school more than 50 years ago and speed writing learned in a college class a few years later. We should not concern ourselves about writing full sentences but record only meaningful facts, ideas, and concepts. This includes important dates, people and places, formulas, references, anything written on the board, and any information that is repeated. We can separate the various ideas and topics by skipping a line between them.
Reduce: As soon as possible after class – 10 minutes if possible but not more than 24 hours - we should review our notes to pull out the main ideas and key points such as places, dates and names of people and to write them in the cue area or narrow column on the left. This recall column contains the most important information from the lecture and should receive the most study time. One way to “clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory” is to write questions. These questions create a “perfect stage” for studying for exams at a later time. We should use as few words as possible.
Recite: To accomplish this task, we cover the notes in the right column and use the questions and key words in the left column to recite the information in the right column. We should not recite the information word for word but should have the general idea. If we cannot recite the information, we should go back and study it until we can.
Reflect: We use the summary area at the bottom of the page to write our reflections. A good way to reflect is to ask questions, such as “What’s the significance of these facts? What principles are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyond them?” We may even add information from a text to define terms or to find causes and effects. We should write a brief summary of the entire lecture.
Review: Reviewing our previous notes at least once per week is the final R. This task should take approximately ten minutes. Reviewing our notes several times per week would help us retain more information for use in the course as well as in the final exam.
This note-taking system was a little confusing for me at first and even worse for some of my classmates. I found that researching the system a little more for this post added much to my understanding of what to write in my notes and how to reduce them. I also learned a lot more about how to reflect and what to write in my summaries. I believe this type of note taking can help students of any age and at any level of their education. I wish I had known about it earlier in my life.