Sarah Skinner / Sun Managing Editor

This is an example of the Cornell Notes system.

December 9, 2019

Do Cornell Students Still Use the Cornell Note-Taking System?

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During WWII, a colonel from Alaska asked Prof. Emeritus Walter J. Pauk to draft a brief guide on how to teach his soldiers to read and study effectively for their correspondence courses.

The guide soon evolved into Pauk’s 1962 best-selling book, How to Study in College, and attracted international acclaim for its revolutionary study technique: the Cornell Note-Taking System.

The Cornell Note-Taking System involves writing questions in the margin to summarize large chunks of information. The learning system relies on a revision technique called “recitation,” where students answer the questions, then without looking at their notes, recall what they’ve learnt.

“By relating newly learned conceptual material that is stored in the left brain, to a visualized object stored in the right brain, you can efficiently affect long-term memory,” Pauk said in a 1998 interview with the Journal of Developmental Education.

The Cornell Learning Center Strategy provides students with an online guide on how to use the Cornell Note-Taking System as well as resources on how to take more efficient notes. The Cornell Store also sells 9.5 x 6.5 inch notebooks with wider margins designed for the Cornell Note-Taking System. YouTube and other websites sport thousands of videos on how to use the system effectively, and it’s often part of the curriculum in high school classrooms.

However, the Cornell Note-Taking System may be redundant to students who rely more on applying information, rather than memorizing their notes.

“I don’t study out of my notes; at least for Physics classes,” Alan Chen ’21, a tutor at the Learning Strategies Center, told The Sun. “Usually students who go to the Learning Center need help on [their] problem sets.”

Others like Kelly Riopelle ’20, enjoy the system.

“I personally find it really helpful, I use it a lot when I’m studying,” Riopelle told The Sun. “Quizzing yourself is the best way to retain information and the Cornell Note-Taking System helps me do that.”

Unfortunately “none of my friends use it,” Riopelle said. “It’s a dying art.”

“I have no idea what the Cornell Note-Taking System is,” Sam Rosenblum grad told The Sun.

Students who studied abroad reported that international universities did not introduce them to the note-taking method.

“They expect you to know how to take notes during high school,” said Esther Poon ’21, an exchange student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Poon was more skeptical of the Cornell Note-Taking system.

“I wonder if people would change their personal habits to a specific note taking system,” Poon said. “Because students have relied on their own ways for all these years, it’s probably very difficult to change.”

Medina Keita ’20, who studied abroad in Paris, reported that learning in a foreign language required a new note-taking system that deconstructed “long, very jargony, hard to understand” lecture transcriptions.

“When I would take notes, it would be whatever fragments I could catch from what [the professors] were saying,” said Keita. “Then I would compare that to what the other students gave me.”

Most students who were interviewed by The Sun knew about the method, but had never utilized it personally.

“My only exposure to it was my sophomore year of high school — my chemistry teacher recommended that we use it,” said Jack Tracey ’20, a government major. “I’ve honestly never seen anyone using it.”

Tracey reported that taking notes prevented students from critically engaging in lectures  because often, students were preoccupied with copying down the lecture slides or recording what the professor said verbatim in lieu of paying attention to class material.

Others were more open to using the Cornell Note-Taking System.

“There’s not a lot of promoting of the note-system,” said Jel Zhao ’20, Animal Science. Zhao reported that she would implement the note-taking techniques in her biology studies, if she knew about more resources that taught students how to use it.

“You want to take notes that helps you,” Chen said. “If this format helps you organize your thoughts better … then yes, it would be useful.”