A Legitimate Cheat Sheet?

Obviously, no teacher would support cheating on an exam; however, it is possible that allowing a type of "cheat-sheet” might be of educational benefit. During my 47 years of teaching at the graduate as well as undergraduate levels, I have found that under the right circumstances, allowing students to bring in a 3 X 5 index "cheat-card” to an examination can be a respectable educational tool.

First, the exam for this exercise should preferably be chosen early on in the course for reasons explained later. Secondly, the exam should cover, if possible, somewhat more material than other exams will cover, especially with a lot of details to be tested on. The student can write as small as possible, color coordinated notes if desired, and utilize both sides of the card. If they can find a way to write on the edges of the card, than you might award a point for creativity/ingenuity.

If the material to be tested has enough volume, as does with many tests, the student cannot possibly put all of this information on the card…so immediately this is forcing the student to organize their notes (thoughts) more efficiently. In addition, as the student decides what will go onto the card, he makes choices that are dependent upon his organization and layout and what he knows and what he is not sure of with the material. He/she usually does so in such a manner so as to make it as expedient as possible to be able to read because the student will realize that he/she does not want to use up too much valuable time trying to read the card for every question. While the student is going through all of this preparatory processing, the student is actually studying and absorbing. If the material is not that voluminous, than perhaps the teacher distributes a card that is cut in half.

There are a number of decisions the student will have to consider when organizing this card. Should the material be catalogued chronologically in terms of course lecture frames? Should the material be catalogued by data versus mechanism or pathway? Should the material be systemic versus organ or experimental versus tried therapy? Should the card include a greater number of "shotgun” outlines or fewer but more detailed compartments of information? Should the student focus on what he/she feels secure in as opposed to what is not securely known? The idea of doing this as early as possible in the course is to give the students some perspective on how to study and / or how to break material down into its simplest form.

Students often think that they will be "getting away” with something. However, once they start trying to prepare these cards they realize that it will be almost impossible to put "everything” onto a 3 X 5 index card (or half of one), hence the distinguishing between what they are sure of and what they are not sure of; and the distinguishing between what should be memorized (e.g. data) and what should be understood, reasoned, and integrated. This processing may just be the vehicle they need to develop a better sense of organization, especially when it comes to information cataloging and time framing.

Quite often, I see students who bring the cards into the exam and wind up not even using them because without overt realization, they have better prepared themselves for the exam. The regimented study that they went through in preparing the cards turned out to be the "study habits” that they did not possess before they considered preparing a "cheat-card”

In the world of athletics, I have continuously relied upon an expression when trying to get a particular point across to my athletes. I believe strongly that there is a true parallel in the world of education. The expression is, "the will to win is important….the will to prepare is essential.” Preparing a truly functional, helpful "cheat-card” might prove to be just the creative, thought-provoking exercise that one might need to give himself/herself a better perspective on preparation for an exam.


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