The secret to fast
and effective note taking

January 2023 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team 

Note-taking can help you retain information longer and recall it faster. Research shows that students who take notes are more mentally engaged than those who simply listen to a speaker or read a document.1,2 Moreover, students who take and review notes are better at recalling information, have a better comprehension of the material, earn higher scores on tests, and achieve better grades in general 3,4,5.

There are many different note-taking techniques. The Cornell technique is the most commonly used in North America. A typical Cornell Note has three sections (see below).

You can make your own Cornell Note by dividing a sheet of paper into three sections as shown above or download a blank Cornell Note at the bottom of the page.  You can also watch a video to see how it is done. 

a) A wide right-hand column. In this column, you write down information you are listening to in your lecture, as well as draw any relevant diagrams and pictures. Always make sure you write information in your own words and not word for word. However, try to take as many notes as you can. Not taking enough notes is one of the most common mistakes that students make. According to one study, first-year university students miss almost half (40%) of the important points in a typical lecture.

While taking notes, don’t forget to leave some space between the lines. This will make it easier to read your notes and allow you to add extra information if needed when you start reviewing your notes.

b) A narrow left-hand column. After the lecture, in this column, you will write keywords, such as important phrases (e.g., definitions), key concepts (e.g., names of important people, names of theories, important people) and brief questions while reviewing your notes. When you start quizzing yourself on your notes, you can fold the paper so only the left side is visible and look at the keywords to try to remember what you learned.

c) Bottom summary section. In this section, you summarize the notes in your own words using a few sentences. This is a very important part of note-taking because summarizing the material will help you understand what was taught better and remember it longer. Write down what other ideas the information in your Cornell Note is related to and why these ideas are important.  By answering these two questions, you build deeper connections with other ideas, which will make it easier to recall and use the information when you need to.  


  1. Bretzing, B. H., & Kulhavy, R. W. (1979). Notetaking and depth of processing. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 4, 145–153.
  2. Piolat, A., Olive, T., & Kellogg R.T. (2004). Cognitive effort of note-taking. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, 1-22.
  3. Piolat, A., Olive, T., & Kellogg, R. T. (2005). Cognitive effort during note-taking. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(3), 291-312.
  4. Kiewra, K. A., DuBois, N. F., Christian, D., McShane, A., Meyerhoffer, M., & Roskelley, D. (1991). Note-taking functions and techniques. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(2), 240-245.
  5. Kiewra, K. A. (1987). Note taking and review: The research and its implications. Journal of Instructional Science, 16, 233-249.

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