Making Use of Cheat Sheets

Katrina Van Osch Saxon

By Katrina Van Osch-Saxon, Fleming College

This Patch is a plea for educators to re-think the need for students to memorize all of the pertinent basic knowledge in a course.


Katrina’s Tips

Katrina reacts to someone suggesting that cheat sheets are not okay.

If I had a loonie for each time I have used a book or other resource while working in the field since attending university & college, I would probably be writing this patch from a yacht. I also know that I am not alone in this, and that our ability to apply our skills in industry demands that we use all of the resources available to us to deliver the quality results expected.  So the question is why do we expect something different from our students? There is often an expectation that, during a course, a lot of very basic knowledge is retained and ready for immediate recall.

Here is something to ask yourself when asking your students to accomplish something like memorizing 140 different species of anything: are they REALLY learning? Memorization is not a measure of understanding. I can memorize 140 of anything for a test tomorrow morning and probably knock it out of the park, but if you ask me next week, I will probably only remember a very small amount of the material. Our students are no different. From the get-go, I have always allowed my students the opportunity to make their own study sheets (because the word “cheat” implies just that, which is not what is really happening here).

In my Forest Entomology & Pathology class (along with several others that require students to know a vast number of things), I allow a study sheet in the exam.  You can set the rules for different circumstances, but here is the gist: if students are encouraged to create a study sheet using all of the materials available to them, it accomplishes several things:

  1. They actually review the course material;
  2. They think about the course material;
  3. They learn what they already know;
  4. They learn what they don’t know (and add it to their study sheet);
  5. They are more prepared (most times) for the test; and
  6. They are more confident and feel less anxious about the exam because they have something to refer to if they require help.

Whether it is an identification key (used by professionals in the field all of the time), an open book, a smart phone app, or a study sheet, making resources available to students during assessments is arming them for success in the future.  A good employee is a resourceful one, and we should foster that approach in the classroom so our students turn out to be some of the best in their respective fields.

An Example

Here is an example of a completed Forest Entomology and Pathology Study Sheet.

links to pdf versions: example cheat sheets.

What kind of cheats, hacks, study sheets, job aids, etc. do you promote in your courses?

Featured image “Sneaky” flickr photo by Larry Smith2010 https://flickr.com/photos/lsmith2010/5418741294 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


The Author

Katrina Van Osch-Saxon is a professor in the Urban Forestry Technician Co-op program at Fleming College and has been teaching for 5 years in the Forestry, Arboriculture, and Urban Forestry programs.  She has a B.Sc. from the University of Guelph, and is also a graduate of the Environmental Pest Management and Arboriculture programs at the Fleming College School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences (SENRS). Katrina is well known for her affinity for trees (planting, climbing, felling, milling & burning).



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The Open Faculty Patchbook Copyright © 2017 by Katrina Van Osch Saxon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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