Final Push: Clarice's Study Tip #2 – Make a 1 page cheat sheet

By: Clarice Fu

It’s just a few days until your exam, and you’re getting the sinking feeling that you’ll never get through all your notes or finish reading your textbook.  You fall asleep drooling all over your binder, just hoping that somehow, everything you’re supposed to know will diffuse from the pages into your exploding head. On the day of your exam, on your way to campus and just before you enter the exam room, you’re violently flipping through your stack of notes.  Dammit, I just gotta find that one thing from Chapter 12 that I can never remember and the prof said was super important…

Sound familiar?  Don’t let it happen to you.  You can be one of those calm, confident students that strut into the exam hall knowing they’ve got everything they need to know.  Here’s how! (That “diffusion” thing doesn’t work, in case you were wondering.  It just made me more tired the next day because I didn’t give my brain proper rest!)

Survival Tip #2: Make a 1 page cheat sheet.

Wait! I’m not telling you to cheat!  What I mean is – create a 1 page review sheet.  I usually do one for each subject.

Why only 1 page?  I limit myself to 1 page because it’s clean and easy for my brain to process, especially during a time of extreme stress.  I can see everything at one glance.  Boiling everything down to 1 page is always a challenge.  Fight the temptation to write in font size 3 and rewrite your textbook.  Can you have more than 1 page?  Of course you can, but the more pages you have, the more frantic page-flipping you’ll do in the 5 minutes before your exam.  That in itself is stressful!

What do I put on a cheat sheet?  Reminders of things I seem to forget every time.  Trigger words for important concepts.  Acronyms for lists that I’ve memorized.  Terms that I can never get right.  Equations that are extra tricky.  A reference to the toughest questions I’ve encountered, so I can quickly run through them the day before my exam.  The guideline is – only include things that you absolutely need.   Leave out things you already know well.

1 page Cheat Sheet Example

Click to see Clarice’s Example

How do I use it? Keep in mind that your cheat sheet is not a substitute for knowing the material; it’s simply a smart strategy and a memory aid.  So, don’t put your cheat sheet together until after you’ve got a good handle on the content or you’ll end up putting too many things on it.

I start 3-4 days before my exam.  I build it chapter-by-chapter, while I am reviewing the material for the last time.  From the day before my exam until I step into the exam room, I ditch my textbook and lecture notes and only review off the cheat sheet.

When I started doing cheat sheets around the 3rd year of my undergrad, I noticed an unexpected benefit:  I started seeing the big pictureNow that all the important stuff was on the same page, my brain could digest it.  I started noticing connections between topics and how things worked together.  Grasping stand-alone concepts is good, but getting the why and how pieces connect will take your understanding to a deeper level.

Try this tip if you’ve got a few days before your next exam.  Then secretly giggle at all your classmates who are sweating outside the exam room, scrambling to read the last 20 pages of their textbook.

Til tomorrow, your dork-o-saurus rex,

<3 Clarice

Check out the entire Final Push series

Tip #1: Plan a Study Schedule
Tip #2: Make a 1 Page Cheat Sheet
Tip #3: Be Prepared
Tip #4: Exam Writing Strategies
Tip #5: Preparing for the real Big one

Nick Pearson

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