top of page
  • Annie Marks

How To Take Effective Notes

Welcome back, Writing Center family! It’s Annie again! I can’t believe we’re nearly halfway through the semester. Time is just flying by! As the semester is starting to pick up, many of our classes are starting to get more intense. Many professors are expecting us to pay attention to information said during lectures and use this information in tests, essays, and other assignments. When so much information is said during lectures, it can be difficult to remember the important material for future use. As such, I wanted to take an opportunity to teach you about effective note-taking systems. Effective note-taking is useful because it helps us concentrate during lectures, become critical thinkers, and remember important information for future use. Among the many note-taking systems, the Cornell Method, Outline Method, and T-Method are one of the most effective systems. All three methods can be used to take effective notes and study these notes later. The Cornell Method and Outline Method are useful for most disciplines, but are not as effective for numerical disciplines. The T-Method is more effective for numerical disciplines. I will explain the steps to using the Cornell Method in detail below and briefly explain the steps to the Cornell Method and T-Method.

Step One: Prepare To Take Notes

The first step to utilizing the Cornell Method is to prepare to take notes before the lecture begins. You can begin this preparation by reviewing the class syllabus, where you can learn what information will be covered during each class period and throughout the semester. You will know what to expect during each class period and understand how each lecture connects together. On the syllabus, you can also identify how you will be tested over the information in the course. This knowledge will help you determine whether the professor expects you to take tests on the material, write essays on the material, or take a different approach. You can use this knowledge as you take notes during lectures because you will know what format your professor wants you to use this information in. Furthermore, you can prepare to take notes by determining whether you will need to read textbook chapters and material before lectures.Your professor may expect you to know certain information before a lecture and, as such, the lecture may be confusing if you do not review this information. You might also find it useful to find a peer to compare notes with and discuss lectures with.

Prepare to take notes!

Step Two: Set Up Your Paper

To prepare your paper for the Cornell Method, you need to divide the paper into three sections. You can create the first section by drawing a line 2.5 inches from the left edge of the paper and labeling this section the “Cue Column.” You can then draw a line 2 inches from the bottom of your paper and label this section the “Summary Column.” The remaining section to the right of the paper should be 6 inches long and can be labeled the “Notes Column.” After dividing your paper into these three sections, you can label the top of your paper with your name, the date, the name of the course, and the topic of the lecture. These labels will make it easy for you to find and access your notes later on.

Step Three: Take Notes in the “Notes Column”

Once you have set up your paper, you can attend the lecture and write your notes in the “Notes Column.” Your notes should include the main points of the lecture, key takeaways from the lecture, and all other important and relevant information mentioned. You should also ensure that you include information your professor wrote on the board, repeated multiple times, or italicized on their presentations because your professor most likely viewed this information as important. When writing your notes, keep the following suggestions in mind:

  • Take notes selectively because not all information in a lecture is important

  • Write notes in your own words, rather than writing down what the professor says word-for-word

  • Write quickly by using short sentences, abbreviations, or symbols

  • Don’t worry about grammar or spelling

  • Write legibly and revise any illegible writing as soon as possible

  • Use bullet points or lists to easily separate ideas

  • Listen and look for cues about important information, such as “Remember that…” and “Most importantly”

  • Indicate a change in topics by using headings or skipping lines

  • Leave open spaces for areas that you may have missed

  • Record questions to ask the professor or your peers after the lecture

  • Avoid distractions by sitting at the front of the classroom, refraining from doodling, and looking at the professor

Take notes in the "Notes Column"!

Step Four: Fill Out the “Cue Column” and “Summary Column”

Immediately after the lecture ends, you should complete the “Cue Column.” This section will essentially operate as a test that you created for yourself. You can create this test by writing questions based on the information you included in the “Notes Column.” You can also write down keywords, main ideas, and important concepts in this section. In addition to the “Cue Column,” you can complete the “Summary Column” by summarizing the main ideas of the lecture in 2-3 complete sentences. The brief summary in this section will allow you to quickly remind yourself about the information covered in a lecture without rereading the entire “Notes Column.”

Step Five: Recite

Now that you have completed all the sections on your paper, you are now ready to begin studying the material from the lecture. You can cover up your notes in the “Notes Column” with a piece of paper and look back at your test in the “Cue Column.” You can answer your test questions, define the keywords, and explain the main ideas or concepts listed in the column. After completing your test, you can uncover the “Notes Column” and check your answers.” Reciting your lecture notes in this manner helps you remember information from the lecture by forcing you to talk about it without the help of the “Notes Column.” Additionally, this method makes retrieval of the information faster by putting you on the spot and ensures that you understand the material by making you explain the information in your own words.

Recite your notes from the "Cue Column"!

Step Six: Reflect

In addition to reciting the material from your lecture, you can spend some time reflecting on the lecture. You can ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is the significance of this information?

  • How can I apply this information to my own life?

  • How does this fit into information I have learned from other classes?

  • What principle is this information based on?

The process of reflecting on this information will help you understand the lecture on a deeper level. Reflection will also help you create connections between the lecture and real-life examples, thus further embedding the information into your memory.

Step Seven: Review

You can continue to review information from the lecture by repeating steps five and six. You can cover up the “Notes Column,” recite information from the “Cue Column,” and check your answers against the “Notes Column.” You can then reflect on the significance of the information. By repeating this process and continually reviewing your lecture notes, you will ensure that the information stays in your memory and can be used in the future.

If you would like to try a different approach to note-taking, you could try the Outline Method or the T-Method. These methods are similar to the Cornell Method and operate as both a note-taking system and studying system.

Outline Method:

The Outline Method organizes information like the skeleton of a textbook chapter and creates a clear hierarchy of information using indentations and spaces. With the Outline method, the main topics are recorded on the left side of the paper, subtopics are recorded by indenting to the right of main topics, supporting thoughts, facts, and ideas are indented to the right of subtopics, and all information are indented to right of the supporting ideas. To use the Outline Method, use the following steps:

  • Step One: Write the topic of the lecture, your name, the date, and the name of the course at the top of the paper

  • Step Two: Record all the important information from the lecture according to the four categories (main topic, subtopic, supporting information, and other information)

  • Step Three: In the same manner as the Cornell Method, recit, reflect, and review your notes on a weekly basis


The T-Method is similar to the Cornell Method, but it is more effective for numerical disciples, such as STEM courses. Basic steps for the T-Method are as follows:

  • Step One: Divide the paper in half

  • Step Two: Write the topic of the lecture, your name, the date, and the name of the course at the top of the paper

  • Step Three: On the left column, write down equations, formulas, or examples for problems discussed in the lecture

  • Step Four: On the right column across from each perspective problem, write questions or personal notes regarding the problem

  • Step Five: Every week, rework problems and review concepts to remember and understand the lecture

If you have any questions about note-taking, you can always stop by the Writing Center! We are always here to help you improve your note-taking skills and learn more about various note-taking systems.

Stop by the Writing Center today!


bottom of page