Photo caption: Photo by Matt Cornock​

Try This Study Skill​

When you ask a student about different ways to study for a test, most will not mention note-taking.


What many students don’t realize is that their note-taking skills connect closely to their success on tests. Using specific methods with note-taking can improve their understanding of the material they’re learning and also catch their knowledge gaps long before the test.


I combine two methods when I teach students good note-taking: Cornell Notes, and the steps outlined in Cal Newport’s book How to Become a Straight A Student.


A quick Google search will bring up many Cornell Notes templates. You can also respond to this email and I will send you a template I made.


The basic idea with Cornell Notes is to divide your paper into three sections, one for vocabulary/important terms, one for general notes, and another for conclusions/questions. This promotes critical thinking and makes the notes easy to use as a study tool later. The notes are dated and titled with the lecture topic, the class name, or the name of the book or article one is reading. This makes them easy to file and retrieve later. Cornell works best for handwritten notes, but students can fill in templates in Word or Docs on a computer.


In Cal Newport’s book, he advocates three steps for note taking: question, evidence, and conclusion. He encourages students to think of the main question being answered by a lecture or reading. Then students find evidence that answers that question as they read. Finally, they include the conclusion or summary of that information. This helps them practice critical thinking and also helps them identify areas where they may not understand what their teacher taught or what they read so they can ask the teacher questions and gain clarity.


The two systems work well together, because the Cornell Notes provide a good structure in which to record the question, evidence, and conclusion.


I am happy to teach students these methods, and my summer intensives are a great time to practice note-taking skills. Let me know if this interests you!