Why Cornell Notes Suck.

You may be in two positions right now.

You may be in graduate school, and can get by with Cornell Note-taking, or you are being lectured at ludicrous speed (yes, ludicrous speed), and you have to quickly abbreviate on the fly, or miss out on important topics.

Note-taking in fast-paced lectures is a harrowing academic experience for many students. In graduate school, you may have been taught Cornell Notes as a welcome alternative to traditional, linear note-taking, but immediately look lost during a lecture.

What is Note-Taking Useful for?

Note-taking is great to commit the content you hear in lessons (or read in slides) into your memory. This is further accentuated if you write it by hand. Research shows that students who take notes during lectures (by hand) remember more key facts when quizzed on the material.

In addition to this, we can easily draw diagrams given in the slides, or draw our own visual aids to help study.

Note-taking was utilized in history as well. The ancient Greeks created some called a ‘hypomnema’, which was a written record of important events. During the Enlightenment period, children were taught techniques for note-taking, turning the singular page into a notebook.

Why Cornell falls short.

However, speed is where this strategy falters. Having to first draft questions, draw the table, and label sections makes it less than ideal to set up during a lecture.

Also, because Cornell is still designed in a linear format (you are writing bullet style notes) you are sacrificing the valuable skill of taking what the instructor says, taking out the fluff, and recording your personal paraphrasing of the material. This makes the content stick better in your mind, eventually moving into the confines of your long term memory.

While you can note-take in this way, while still paraphrasing the content, the format almost inherently encourages students to write out the facts of the lecture verbatim.

Final Thoughts

Yes, the Cornell note-taking system has its advantages. You are probably already adept at it, and the summaries and questions embedded into the format help place the content into your long term memory.

However, the speed of this technique pales in comparison to some other methods (I will write about them shortly), which use brief summaries of key ideas. The philosophy is that you will check back over your notes later, and easily grasp the general direction of the lesson and content.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, and read some of our other great articles.


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