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Note Making

Much of the important information in your courses is presented by your professors and other students during lectures, labs and seminars. It is essential to discriminate what information is important, and to record it completely and accurately. But, it's not enough to have "good notes." You must also use these notes in ways that foster learning. The Learning Skills Program offers workshops and courses to help you learn to make and use better notes.


From time to time we have workshops devoted to Cornell Notes and Concept Mapping -- two ways to make notes. However, we encourage students to make an appointment to see one of the Learning Skills counsellors as soon as note-making concerns arise.


Students enrolled in the Learning Skills Course work through one module related to note making using Cornell Notes, and one on concept mapping.

Cornell Notes

Cornell Notes is a system of making and using notes that promotes active learning. Before the lecture (or reading) you set up your notebook pages with a vertical line dividing the page roughly 1/4 (left) and 3/4 (right). The wider right side is used to make notes, draw graphs and record the important information from the lecture or reading. It is a good idea to leave a line or two between each major note or piece of information. The left column is used to write questions and keywords that relate to the information recorded on the right. Each major point on the right ought to have a question or keyword on the left.

If you use your laptop to make notes, check out this Word template for Cornell Notes.

Depending on the speed of the professor and the amount of information that needs recording in the right column, you may or may not have time to write the questions and keywords in the left column. If you do, that's great. If you don't, then you should fill in the left column as soon as possible, and for sure before the end of the day. The questions and keywords serve an important function. You will be using these to remember the key points in the right column during several practice sessions.

Most Important Part
Once you have the questions and keywords in the left column, you are ready to do a practice session. Use a blank sheet of paper to cover the right column. Now, without peeking, look at the questions and keywords on the left and try to remember the information on the right. Say the answers to yourself, or write them down on the blank sheet. Don't just say to yourself, "Yeah, I know that..." You want to be able to repeat or paraphrase the information on the right with good accuracy. If it is information that needs to be "exactly right" (e.g., a formula), then that is what you want. However, if it is information that is more general, then an accurate paraphrase is usually better. Your first practice session should be as soon as possible, ideally right after class if you have a spare period, or in your first break. If you wait too long, you will find that you can't remember much of the information in the right column. If that's the case, then you waited too long. As you practice, Keep Score. If you remembered the information accurately and without peeking, then give yourself a tick (check mark) under the question or keyword on the left. If you had to peek or didn't remember the information very well, give yourself an "X."

Learning the information requires a bit of practice. Soon you will discover the best way to distribute your practice, but here is a schedule that you might try as a starting point:

  1. As soon as possible, do your first practice. This is best right after class.
  2. Before the day is done, do another practice. Remember to Keep Score.
  3. After a few days, do your third practice. At this practice you might be going over the whole week's lectures for the course.
  4. Stretch out your practice sessions as you go, forcing yourself to remember the key points for longer and longer periods.
  5. Soon you will note that you have several consecutive ticks beside many items, and there may be some that you are finding hard to remember. These problem items probably are unclear to you, and you should do what you need to clarify the information. Perhaps you can consult the text or ask your professor for more memorable information or clarification.
  6. Once you have several consecutive ticks for each item, you have it all learned! One more review before the exam will probably be sufficient.


The following handouts on making and organizing notes are available at Counselling Services. .

Check out these cool links to other colleges and universities (and remember to come back!):

Page last updated: November 2011
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