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Cornell Note Organizational Format

To succeed in college, important ideas from lectures and textbooks must be identified, organized, recorded, practiced, and stored in long term memory for recall when needed. The Cornell Format helps learners do these important tasks required for learning. Using the Cornell Format has helped many learners uncover a previously hidden ability to learn and remember better than ever before and earn higher grades.

  1. One immediate benefit from the Cornell Format is it is an easy way to gather and organize formation to be learned.
  2. A second benefit is it saves time because it speeds learning of information that may appear on quizzes and exams.
  3. A third benefit of using the Cornell Format is the ability to self-test to discover that has and has not been learned before a test is taken when something can still be done about it.
  4. A final benefit is often better exam and final course grades.

Setting Up The Cornell Format

The Cornell Format is set up by:

  1. Draw a vertical line the length of the page about 1/3 of the way from the left margin.
  2. Using details, turn main points from lectures and textbooks into questions and placed to the left of the line.
  3. Answers are formed out of details to explain main ideas and placed on the right side of the line.

This should be done as soon as possible after attending lectures to minimize forgetting. According to individual style, questions may be formulated before, during, or after reading text assignments.

  • The Cornell Format encourages reading for the purpose of finding specific information to include as answers to possible test questions. This technique directly attacks the problems of poor concentration and forgetting what was just read.
  • For lectures, The Cornell Format is a simple way to reorganize notes into a format from which it is easy to learn and one that promotes, not hinders, learning.

How to Recite Information in the Cornell Format

  1. READ A QUESTION ALOUD with the answer covered.
  2. RECITE THE ANSWER ALOUD as completely as possible from memory, as if lecturing a class. Some learners prefer to write an answer from memory as if taking a test. The best way is to do both but at different times.
  3. Then CHECK the accuracy of the answer.
  4. If RECITED correctly, move on to the next main idea
  5. IF AN ANSWER IS NOT RECALLED OR IS RECALLED INCORRECTLY, LOOK AT IT AND READ ALOUD. Then, reread the question and recite aloud as much of the answer as possible from memory before checking. Do this step as many times as needed until the answer is recited or written correctly from memory. Then, place a check mark in pencil next to the question to indicate that you have not learned this answer, yet.
  6. REVIEW THE “I DON’T KNOW IT” MATERIAL AT LEAST, EVERY OTHER DAY. Review "learned" material about every 2-3 days to keep the information fresh and to prevent forgetting. As the number of times increases that the information is received, the ability to recall is increased and more accurate.

Why the Cornell Format Works

A human’s memory contains an immediate memory, and short-term memory, and a long-term memory (Kintsch l970, Miller and Johnson-Laird l976). Items must be stored in long-term memory to be available for later recall whether for exams or on the job. Information must be held in the short-term memory about 5 seconds to move that information from short-term toward long-term memory (Simon l969). When information using the Cornell Format is recited properly, information is held in the memory 3 to 5 seconds and moves toward long-term memory.


9/91rev5/10, 2/11,4/12, 8/12 Developed by Dennis H. Congos, Academic Advisor & Learning Skills Specialist, First Year Advising and Exploration, 116 Phillips Hall, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, 32816 407-823-3789 Email:

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