I am regularly asked about how I make cheat sheets (allowed reference sheet) for the exams and quizzes that I have at my university. In this blog post, I will show you how I do it! I will give you all the advice that I have so that you’re able to make cheat sheets like mine.
I started making these sheets when I started university, and every single sheet that I have been making for the past 3 years has improved my technique!
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What is a cheat sheet?
A cheat sheet is composed of one or more papers that we are allowed to use during an exam, as a reminder. One can generally put the formulas necessary for the resolution of exercises in mathematics and physics for example. For my part, I always put examples that go with the theory, so as not to forget anything during the exam.
Materials you need
- Staedler Triplus Fineliner Pens
- 15 cm ruler
- 30 cm ruler
- Blank white paper : preferably thicker, so that it is not clear and you do not see through it
- Erasable .5 mm pen: when I have to write a lot of text and have little space, I take .5 mm
- Erasable .7 mm pen : I find that the ink of .7 mm is darker and it is more beautiful on the sheet
- Retractable eraser: since one writes small, having an eraser like this one allows being more precise when one wants to erase
- Mechanical pencil with color leads: Sometimes I like to use a pencil with a lead of color, as it can be erased very well but it is colorful to identify certain things. It’s useful when we’re not 100% sure!
Timelapse video of me making a cheat sheet
View more timelapses video with my playlist on my YouTube channel.
Steps to make the perfect cheat sheet or reference sheet
1- Draw a line at the top of the sheet and write in your contact information
Use this line at the very beginning of your sheet to write :
- Your name
- Phone number
- Name of the course you’re in
- Exam subject (which chapters)
- Which exam you’re writing (is it the midterm, a quiz, a final exam, etc.)
I write my phone number in case a disaster occurs and I lose my sheet… Fortunately, it has never happened to me, but you never know!
2- Draw the columns on both sides of the sheet
If it’s a course with a lot more text that requires a good space, I’d rather make 3 columns of 7.2 cm.
On the other hand, if they are mathematical formulas or drawings that do not need a lot of vertical space, then I make 4 narrow columns (3 times 5.2 cm and the last column is 5.9 cm)
3- Decide on your color code
Having a good color code makes all the difference when it comes to having a “beautiful” cheat sheet.
I often use the same color code and it allows me to not make mistakes and always have sheets that have a very clear color code that is without any errors. It’s not only a question of aesthetics, but it also makes it easy to find information fast. As the written text is very small, it is important to have a good color code if you want to find the right information quickly. During an exam, when time is running out, it would be unfortunate to waste time because you don’t know where to find the information on your cheat sheet.
I take my favorite colors and I write on a sheet next to me: title, subtitle, example, definition, and I often use green for the benefits and red for the disadvantages. I also use a specific color in mathematics when I put a method of checking my answer so that it is highlighted on my sheet.
Tip for Math or Physics Cheat Sheets
Over time, I realized that solving exercises in math and physics is often a bunch of repeated steps with certain formulas that we need to follow. So when it’s applicable, I always make a list of steps for solving typical exercises, which I write on my sheet. Then, I put an exercise with a certain peculiarity, and I will also number all the resolution steps of the example. Therefore, it’s clear to me during the exam what steps I need to follow and in which order.
Frequently asked questions
What do I put on my sheets? How to identify what is relevant for the exam?
On my sheets, I always put all of the theory as well as examples of exercises to accompany them by order of courses or chapters. Every week, when I do exercises, I identify in the margin of my notebook the exercises that use specific notions I need to remember, or that have been difficult. I write these exceptions in the margin in red in order to remember.
Also, some teachers sometimes say “this exercise looks like what you are going to have in the exam”. In this case, I would write in red “Important for the exam” in the margin of my notebook.
So when the time comes to make my sheets for the exam, I look at all the pages of my notebook and add post-it-notes where there are red notes. That way, when I’m making my note sheet, I just have to go from one post-it to another. It allows me to focus on my note sheet rather than spend time identifying what I want to put on it.
I always make my note sheets in order. I start from the first chapter, write all of the theory seen in this course and then put the associated examples. Sometimes, I write the theory on one side of my paper and all the examples on the other side of the paper. It depends on the type of course and what suits it better!
Also, I do not write anything that I do not understand on my sheet, I think that is very important! So if I’m going to write concepts that I do not understand 100%, I take the time to study and understand them well before writing them.
Is it better to write all the theory with very small handwriting or just the main points?
It depends on you. For my part, I prefer to write the whole theory when it comes to “textual” courses. In the exams, there are small details that are required and we all must know. Writing in a small font allows me to have more theory on the sheet. Also, even if I am to write with a smaller handwriting, I am used to it and I can read the information well. By doing this I generally manage to get all the theory of my courses, which often consist of more than 100 PowerPoint slides, onto my sheets!
On the other hand, if it is for mathematics or physics, then I often write the main points that I need to know, although these generally cover the whole theory as well.
How long does it take?
My cheat sheets take me between 6 and 9 hours to make, sometimes even 11 hours. In general, it takes me 1 hour per column on a sheet. You have to be careful because you can hurt your neck by working so long with your head bent over as you write. So I try to make my cheat sheets over the span of 2 or 3 days when possible!
Does it help me learn theory faster / better?
When I start working on my cheat sheets, it is because I did the exercises suggested by the teacher. I am at a stage where I understand the subject (or I think I do). Of course, making these sheets confirms my learning, but the purpose isn’t to help me understand better. This has already been done earlier.
Why do I do them on paper?
Most teachers do not want us to use computer-generated note sheets, so we have to do it by hand. When allowed however, I do it on the computer as it’s much faster. For courses like maths or physics, I still prefer to make them by hand. Writing formulas and drawings on paper is easier for me.
How do I write so small?
I think this secret lies in the practice and size of the pen used! That’s why I use .5 and .7 mm pens. You can write smaller with needle-type pens.
Do I use them after the exam?
Yes, very often. As I had 5-6 courses in mathematics and physics, the subject often intersects with old topics. So I use past sheets of notes to understand the new theory. I keep my cheat sheets organized and classified to remind myself of the theory a few years later. In my opinion, they are a good summary of a subject.
I hope this article will help you make your future cheat sheets and that you will be successful! Feel free to leave a comment if you have questions that I have not answered yet, I will be happy to answer them.
Are you going to make note sheets too? Will you follow my advice? I want to know! 🙂
Special thanks to Lilia, Stephanie, Aaron and Mathieu who helped me by proofreading this blog post!