I Tried the Cornell Method, and It's Never Been Easier to Study For Finals

My freshman year, I freaked out when midterm season rolled around, because I had no idea how I was supposed to study. Midterms in college can be daunting. It feels like there's so much more pressure to do well on them than in high school because there are so fewer grades in play. So, I started brainstorming a better way to take notes that will prevent a freak out every semester.

I liked the idea of note cards, but those could get easily disorganized. I also liked the idea of digital note taking on my computer (as most students do), but you actually remember the material better when you physically write down notes on paper. Then I remembered something my US History teacher taught us when I was a junior in high school: the Cornell Method.

The Cornell Method is a way of note taking that separates your notes into three columns. First, you'll take notes on whatever material is being presented to you, whether it be reading, a video, or a lecture. As you process the information, discern what the most important and relevant information is. Once you're done taking the notes, you'll go back through them and write down ways to remember that information in the second column. This can be a visual representation of something, a keyword, phrase, or a mnemonic device.

After you finish the second column (where I like to include pertinent vocabulary and definitions that are important to remember), you make a third column for summary. It is said that the best way to remember information when you're learning something new is to try to teach it to someone else. In my summary sections, I write little paragraphs of the learned information as if I was teaching it to my best friend. That way, the knowledge is now solidified in my brain in a way that I'll remember because I've recited it in my own words.

It all looks like this:

Using this method of note taking eased so much of my midterm stress. Not only does it help me retain the information I need to know but the organized layout of the system helps me go back and restudy my notes during exam time, so I don't have to scramble through piles of pages wondering where that one concept from chapter eight is. Because of my keywords and visual representations, I'll already know where it is.

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