64 Free Cornell Note Templates (Cornell Note Taking Explained)

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Taking notes for any subject is usually personalized to the individual, but not all ways of note-taking are created equal. Cornell Note Taking was devised by Professor Walter Pauk, an education professor at Cornell in the 1950s, as a systematic format for condensing, organizing, and reviewing notes for long-term retention. Most effective for students at the high school and college level, Cornell Notes have been proven more effective in courses where synthesis and application are required, as opposed to simple recall.

Cornell Notes also serve as content-knowledge checkers that will help you to realize when you need more study or clarification. As you fill in your summary box or write questions in your left-hand column, keep in mind where your content knowledge has holes and could use supplemental study.

Versions of this method vary, but the most common method requires the notetaker to create two columns, one for general note-taking, another for asking questions and listing keywords. Using this method strengthens studying skills and streamlines the review process. Each page includes a summary of the information at the bottom, so in total, each page contains room for important information at its most distilled, reflection on the subject matter, and guidance for clarifying any hang-ups in the future.

The reason students should use Cornell Notes as opposed to other recently trending options like Sketch Notes or the simplified version of Cornell Notes, combination notes, is because of the depth and usefulness of the format.

How to Take Cornell Notes

In order to be most effective, the Cornell Notes system requires a specific method using a specific format. Adhering to this method will maximize your learning and study time to be most effective for your learning.

In the following sections, we will discuss how to prepare the page for Cornell Notes, the best way to take notes during a lesson or reading, how to review your notes to distill the information, and how to study them for more profound and longer memory retention.

Follow the following steps for your Cornell Notes to be most effective:

Preparing your notebook

Because Cornell Notes is partially a system for the efficient organization of information, it is best to have a notebook solely devoted to notes, so there aren’t any interrupting pages that don’t have to do with the subject being studied.

Preparing your notebook to make a Cornell note template requires very little preparation. Depending on the method, you may be dividing your page into 3 or 4 different sections: one small area at the top, one at the bottom, and two columns in the middle section with the one on the right approximately twice the size of the one on the left.

To create the Cornell note template, first draw a horizontal line on the bottom of the page at least two inches tall, or 5-7 lines. Then, draw another horizontal line at the top of the page about 3 lines or 1 inch tall.

Next, draw a vertical line about 2.5 inches from the left margin of the page. This is the review section.

Write the course name, date, and topic of study in the top section of the page. This will help to keep you organized and make exam preparation much easier.

Taking notes

At the top of each page, it’s important to include the course name, date, and lecture or reading topic. This will help keep your information organized to make studying easier.

In the largest section, take the Cornell notes from the lecture or text including the most important information, and use abbreviations to get down the information while still keeping up with the lecture. Take anything the professor writes or information that shows up on the slideshow and put it here. Paraphrase, focusing on the big ideas.

Listen or watch for words that let you know information is important. Listen for repetition or emphasis in a lecture that may clue you into important details. If a teacher says something like, “The reasons for this decision/event were…” or “Important takeaways from this event are…”, then include that information in the note-taking column. When reading, look for the bold type or when information is restated in visual forms, like graphs and charts.

It’s important to keep recorded information brief. Don’t try to write down all the examples or illustrations, but record the general ideas, using symbols and abbreviations to get the basics down. Paraphrasing and summarizing information like this will help your brain to make connections between the ideas and how you’re choosing to express them, which will help to improve recall. You are analyzing and synthesizing information as you go.

With each new topic, draw a line or start a new page. Leaving space between topics enables you to stay organized and to see the progression of ideas. If you have a question while you’re learning and reading, don’t divert yourself to answer it. Write the question down to come back later, still in the middle column. Edit your Cornell note template to make sure that your notes are legible and clean before time has passed and you’ve forgotten what you could have meant.

Reviewing and expanding your notes

As soon as possible after learning this information, return to your notes. The left-hand column now comes into play as you read over the notes you took. Summarize the information on the right into keywords that condense the information as much as possible. Annotate the notes you took during the lesson or reading to help you find these keywords. This may require underlining, circling, and highlighting to find the main ideas. Cross out unimportant information to get to those keywords, identifying information you aren’t likely to need on the exam.

As you review, write questions you think might appear on the exam in the left-hand column. Depending on the mastery level expected during the exam, you might be writing simple recall questions or higher-level thinking questions.

For example:

If your notes contain basic information about the creation of the printing press. Your question section might contain recall questions like, “The printing press was invented in the year…?” However, if you’re expected to write answers that require more analysis, you might write questions like, “What impact did the printing press have on literacy?

Finally, at the bottom of your page, you are going to clarify the information in a summary. Ask yourself how you would summarize this information to someone else, including only the most important information. If you can’t summarize the information yet, it might be a sign that you don’t understand the material well enough. Further review your notes to identify where you might need deeper study or instructor clarification.

Using your notes to study

When preparing for the exam, concentrate on the left-hand column, reading over or highlighting and underlining the most important parts. Cover the right-hand side and ask yourself the practice exam questions you wrote. Check your comprehension as you go, or ask a friend to quiz you.

For maximum retention and comprehension, it’s best to practice reviewing over a longer period of time, rather than cramming right before the test. Using this method should make long-term review and comprehension easier and more efficient.

Cornell Note Examples


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    Making Cornell Note Template Using MS Word

    Creating a Cornell note template using Microsoft Word will allow you to open new documents pre-formatted for Cornell Note. In this section, we will provide a step-by-step process to create the cue column, note-taking area, and summary area in a digital Cornell note template for printing or typing your Cornell Note. At the end of this stage, we will provide a Cornell Note example page.

    This process consists of the following steps:

    Set the page dimensions

    To begin, open a new Microsoft Word document and set the margins through the “Page Layout” tab. Select “Custom Margins” and set the left and right margins at 0, and at 1 for the top, and a 2-inch margin at the bottom. It will tell you that the margins exceed the current printable area. Select “Fix” to apply the changes.

    Creating margins is leaving space for your course, date, and subject at the top and for your summary at the bottom.

    Create the table

    To create the two main columns in the center of the page for the Cornell note template, go to “Insert,” then “Table,” and then “Insert Table.” Format it to be 2 columns wide, 34 rows long.

    Right-click the left-hand column again and select “Table Properties.” Click “Column, and make the width 2.4 inches. Click “Next Column” and make the right-hand column 6 inches wide. Click “Row” and make the row height 0.25 inches. Select “Exactly” under Row Height, then OK.

    Following these steps has created your larger note-taking section on the right and your smaller cue section for keywords on the left.

    Change table properties

    If you would like for the left-hand section to be without lines, simply right-click anywhere in the left-hand column, hit “Select,” then “Column.” Then, right-click again and select “Merge Cells.”

    Save your notes

    Select “Save As” from the File menu, click on your Templates folder which may be located in your Microsoft Word App Data folder, then name the file  Cornell note template. Save as (*.dotx) which is the document template format.

    Use the template

    Once you’ve created the template, it’s available to open for a new subject at any time or to re-use for a current course. Templates created in Microsoft Word can be printed and hand-filled or completed in-program.

    Note, however, that each row of the table you created will get larger as you fill it. This can be useful for separating ideas, but if you’d like to maintain the feeling of writing on notebook paper, hit “Tab” to enter a new row when you reach the end of one. If you don’t intend to print the template, you can opt not to include rows at all when making your two-column table. Simply hit enter to expand them to the desired length.

    Free Templates

    It can be quite useful to use templates as it is easy to print them out especially when these are black and white as they would not be costly. It makes it easier to get an idea about the relevant content.

    Following are some free downloadable templates for you:

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      Related: Table of Contents in Microsoft Word

      Basic Cornell Notes Format

      A horizontal line divides the page, which is at 2 inches from the bottom of the page. A vertical line, which is 2.5 inches would be at the left-hand side. The right-hand side is for taking the notes whereas the left-hand side would be for asking questions if any during the lecture. The bottom of the page would be for writing the summary of the lecture.

      Taking notes, especially when you are in a rush, can be very difficult, and often, because of such haste, you may end up writing something that you may fail to understand when you refer to it later. Stay organized with our easy to use Cornell Note Templates that will help ensure you easily take notes and understand them when you refer to them later. Download the templates provided and tailor them to suit your needs.

      Other Things to Consider

      Following are some things to note about the note-taking area:

      • When filling out your notes, record meaningful facts and ideas from the lecture or record information from your book, video, or another information source in the note-taking area. Try to be legible but as concise as possible. Use bullet points, and keyboard shortcuts like “&” or “+” instead of “and.”

        For example:

      If the teacher writes out the sentence, “Gutenberg’s movable type removed the need for scribes, reduced copy time, and made knowledge more widespread and cheaper.”

      Writing a concise version of this in Cornell Notes might look like this: “Gberg press – scribes -time +knowledge -$”

      • In the left column, after the lecture, reduce the ideas in the note-taking column even further. Summarize meanings and relationships between ideas with keywords. This will strengthen recall and reinforce comprehension and continuity between ideas.
      • When studying, cover the right-hand column and recite the information you can remember based on your keywords. State as many facts and ideas as you can, verifying what you said after you’ve reached the limit of your memory. You may also ask yourself questions about how you can apply the information or why it is important.
      • On another page or with the remaining room, include your own reflections from the lesson and the course, attempting to make connections between your other courses and subjects. Creating connections helps to solidify the information and create connections that will strengthen your memory.
      • To keep the information fresh, spend 10 minutes every week reviewing the notes for maximum retention.


      Why are Cornell Notes so Effective?

      Surprisingly, note-taking is never part of most schools’ syllabus. Therefore, students have to learn either by instinct or imitation. Every so often, we write down notes word for word. We write down information that we don’t even process at all. But the question is, is it more effective to use the Cornell notes template?

      This method helps both high schools and college students. Its main objective was supposed to help students process large amounts of information during lectures. By making them Cornell notes examples, they can easily organize their thoughts, listen more attentively, and take notes much faster.  

      What is the Purpose of Cornell Notes?

      The purpose of Cornell notes is to make note-taking easier for the students in a way that they would be able to recall the lecture quite well in the future. It is devised in a manner that it would make it easy for a student to jot down the notes. There are columns to note the key points of the lecture and for the questions. Following the format of Cornell notes would assist in improving the listening skills of a student.

      Thus, Cornell Notes for you can be quite amazing as these can assist in improving the listening skills.

      Who Invented the Cornell Notes?

      The Cornell method of note-taking was invented by Walter Pauk in 1940. He was a professor of education at Cornell University. The use of this particular method is also quite prominent in “How to Study in College” book. You should read this book if you want to get more details on this particular subject.

      Final Thoughts

      Cornell Note Taking is a great tool for high school and college students who wish to learn their subject comprehensively, remembering it long-term and for the exam. Organizing your notes in the Cornell format forces you to be alert during lessons, summarizing information to its most essential as you write.

      When reviewing, you practice finding the main ideas of your lessons and reflecting on the information to create questions that require deeper subject knowledge and are useful for later study.

      Students, scholars, or anyone interested in becoming more proficient can use Cornell Note to deepen their comprehension, maximize their time, organize information, and become more efficient learners.

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