Cheat Sheets & Wrappers

Crystal candies

For the past year or so I’ve been allowing students to use a note card, essentially a “cheat sheet,” when completing the single in-class “exam” in my microeconomics course. I put exam in quotes because I refer to the assessment as a quiz. It’s essentially an exam; it carries the same weight as a test. But, like calling an assignment a warm-up instead of homework, naming it a quiz makes it somewhat less scary.

Students appreciate having their card during the quiz. From the learning standpoint, I see it as an incentivized study activity. To be most helpful during the exam, students have to really think about the content. What do they understand best? What areas are most confusing? How can they use the card to clarify understanding?  How should the content be organized? What are the priorities? What are the interrelationships between and among concepts?

Song, Guo & Thuente (2016) report a positive correlation between the quality of the card, in terms of organization and content presentation, and exam performance.  My students’ quiz track similarly to their card quality.  The key questions for me are: Do better students already know how to study and prepare the cards? Or, can weaker students be coached on card preparation as a study strategy, to improve learning and academic performance?

Focusing on the students who have been less academically successful, I’ve become very intentional about discussing study strategies during class this semester. I handed out the cards this week, describing their preparation as a learning activity, not just an aid during the quiz.

I set aside just a few minutes of class time to talk about how and when to prepare them. Preparing the card is best done after the student has invested some time in the material, discovering potential problem spots.  We discussed a timeline for gapped study.  I reminded them of practice questions, resources and active learning strategies.

Of course, I also reviewed the “rules” for the cards.

  • The card must only have information on one side.
  • Their name goes on the other side.
  • Cards are turned in with their exam.
  • Content on the card must be handwritten. No multiple reductions of cut-and-pasted content.

Another twist I’m adding this term is a post-quiz wrapper. Here are the details.

This activity is designed to give you a chance to reflect on your quiz performance and, more importantly, on the effectiveness of your preparation. Please answer the questions sincerely. Your responses will be collected to inform instruction; they have no impact on your grade.

  1. Approximately how much time did you spend preparing for the quiz? _______
  2. What percentage (%) of your time was spent
  • Reading or re-reading the textbook
  • Self-testing / reciting
  • Reviewing homework & classwork solutions
  • Reworking problems & in-class practice
  • Watching the screencasts
  • Reviewing your own notes
  • Preparing the note card

Other? Please explain.

3. What areas do you think were most challenging on the quiz?

  • Trouble with the computations
  • Unclear about vocabulary
  • Confusion about the graphs
  • Lack of understanding of concepts
  • Careless mistakes

Other? Please explain.

  1. Did you feel prepared for the quiz? Are you surprised by your grade? Please explain.
  2. What advice would you give to future students preparing for the quiz?

I’ll share the takeaways in a future post.  What are your thoughts or experiences with cheat sheets? Have you asked students to reflect on how they used them or what they discovered about themselves as learners from preparing them? Please share!

Reference: Song, Y., Guo, Y., Thuente, D. (2016). A Quantitative Case Study on Students’ Strategy for Using Authorized Cheat-sheets. IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference Paper. 10.1109/FIE.2016.7757656, 1-9.



About Lolita Paff

Educator. Wife. Mother. Amateur chef. Wine lover.

Posted on October 19, 2017, in Learning, Students, Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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