5 Simple Rs for Powerful Note-Taking: A Guide to Success

13 Jan, 2023 | Read in 5 minutes

Transform how you take notes and improve your learning with the 5 Simple Rs guide.


The 5 Rs of note-taking are the five steps of the Cornell Method. Fyi, there are the four best note-taking strategies, namely Bullet-point, the Cornell Method, Mind Mapping, and Template. This post will discuss the 5 Rs of Note-Taking, which is part of the Cornell Method.

Based on an easy-to-remember mnemonic, The Cornell Method uses five main points: record, reduce, recite, reflect and review. The five steps have the same initial letter R. That's why it's called the 5 Rs of note-taking.

Some people think the Cornell Method can only be implemented for handwriting. But remote workers use this method to take digital notes. Although there is a journal that highlighted the advantage of students who utilised study skills by taking notes by hand. The student managed to answer conceptual questions better than students who took notes with laptops.

So, this article will cover the Cornell Method and its iconic 5 Rs.

What is the Cornell Method?

The Cornell Method is often referred to as the Cornell Notes System or the 5 Rs of note-taking. This method was invented in the 1950s by Walter Pauk, a professor of education at Cornell University. Professor Pauk writes about the implementation of the Cornell Method in his book: How to Study in College.

The Cornell Method can be applied to both traditional and digital, making this method popular nowadays. Students and professionals can use this method to record lessons or during meetings.

What makes the Cornell Method easy to use?

The Cornell Method offers efficiency. The five steps which include record, reduce, recite, reflect and review, are easy to remember. This system encourages us to reflect on notes and summarise them in our own words.

Despite its simplicity, the method makes us think critically about the key concepts in each lesson. We have to explain the main points in detail, so we are more likely to remember them. Also, it has a logical and easy-to-read layout. The left side contains the main points and the right side for details. This will make it easier to find information when referencing the record.

Cornell University suggests closing the right side, which contains detailed definitions. Then see if we can redefine the bullet points. This note-taking tip will help you quickly identify topics that you want to review.

Source: Chloe

The 5 Rs of Note-Taking

For some people, how we take notes affects how well we study. Or we can conclude that good note-taking techniques will help us remember and recall information. So, let’s dive deeper into the five steps.

1. Record

A vital aspect of any note-taking method has a place to take notes. You can use digital notes or traditional ones. Write down all the ideas and facts you hear from meetings, classes, or online courses. You can use some of the rules below to make it easier to summarise:

  • Use a bold title when there is a new topic.
  • Leave blank spaces to make it easier to read.
  • Add abbreviations and symbols when writing specific points. Make the character consistent, so it's easy to recognise.

2. Reduce

We need to summarise all recorded information in our own words. Stop trying to write down all the information, but keep it as simple as possible. Summarising is difficult, but it consolidates the writer's understanding. It also clarifies relationships between data.

A study from ScienceDirect shows that summarising strengthens our memory. Summarising also removes information that is not 100% important for our memory. After the recording process, we must immediately carry out this reduced process. The questions should focus on the main ideas and nitty-gritty details.

3. Recite

Say as loudly and in as much detail as possible what you have learned without looking at your notes. We don't have to memorise all the sentences; we take the points.

The Recite process is similar to the Feynman technique. This stage aims to study and internalise the topic in depth. We must explain a topic in detail as if we were teaching a child. In this case, we can't hide in the things we don't know. When we realise we don't understand a topic, we must go back to our notes and study it again.

There was a research article published online by SAGE Journals in 2016 entitled The Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice. There was a group of students divided in two. Both groups were given 7 minutes to read a text. After a short break, the first group repeated the exercise while the second group tried to memorise information as much as possible. After one week, both groups were tested and here are the results:

  • 40% of the first group (the read-only group) answered the questions correctly.
  • 61% of the second group (the memoriser group) answered the questions correctly.

In other words, reading all the information we write and know helps us retain more information.

4. Reflect

An article from Hampshire College shows that our brains remember information by associating new knowledge with things we already know. Reflecting is like discussing with ourselves. We can connect existing facts with new ones.

There are three ways to reflect on the information we record:

  • Scaffolding: We write down all the information we know about the topic before taking notes.
  • Predictions: We make predictions about relevant information related to records. Predictions contain things we have never learned.
  • The big picture: We outline the core topic of the notes, then write information related to that topic. Usually, this method is used in corporate brainstorming sessions.

5. Review

The last thing of this method is the review process. We should spend 15-20 minutes reviewing the notes we have made. This way makes us remember the essential points in the notes.

Our knowledge has an expiration date. That is, someday, we will forget the information. To avoid this, schedule again to review the notes you made.

Final Thought

In conclusion, the 5 Rs of note-taking is a powerful method that can help you to master the art of note-taking. By following Cornell’s 5 Rs of note-taking (Record, Reduce, Recite, Reflect, and Review), you can retain more information, increase your understanding of the material, and even improve your study skills.

It's a simple yet effective method that can help you to achieve your goals. Whether you are a student, educator, professional or remote worker, the method can provide you with the tools you need to take effective notes and improve your productivity. With a little practice, you'll be taking powerful notes in no time.

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