How to Make the Perfect Cheat Sheet

written by Marie February 18, 2020

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!

This article contains affiliate links. This doesn’t cost you anything, but I can earn a small commission if you buy something or sign up on a website. This helps me to maintain the blog. My full disclosure is here.

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

If you ever use my technique, do not hesitate to tag me on Instagram or Twitter! I love seeing your cheat sheets!

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!

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16 comments

Jose Abel Menchaca Martinez May 20, 2020 - 1:05 am

Hello Marie, this topic is great.
I created my cheat sheets during the university, 5 years ago, currently I forgot it this technique, but I read your post and help me remember this method, my cheat sheets was more simple only two columns for both sides front and back the sheet whit total four columns. I usually used this technique for mathematics, physics and theory and I always my notes was highs, when I didn’t use my cheat sheets the exam was hard. thank for share your technique, I will take your advices for example I need define my color code and I will make new cheat sheets. Currently I work for a big company into the department of IT, I am a hardware system engineering but I have more experience in create software for the company more specific scada software.
thank you for you post and sorry for my primitive English , But currently I try to learn English for this reason for lucky I found your blog and this article is the first that I read it.

greetings.

Reply
Marie July 5, 2020 - 10:55 pm

Hello Jose! Thanks for your comment 🙂 I’m glad this blog post was helpful to remind you how to make a cheat sheet!
I hope your exam went well.
Marie

Reply
Callum Harlow June 11, 2020 - 8:04 pm

this is bad

Reply
Marie June 12, 2020 - 3:21 pm

Hello! These cheat sheets are actually allowed by professors during exams. I’m not cheating. It’s just the English name that is weird.

Reply
Imran April 20, 2021 - 9:00 pm

You Spinner

Reply
Marie April 24, 2021 - 7:13 pm

Hey Imran, creating cheat sheets for exams in my country is actually allowed and mandatory.

Reply
Britney October 3, 2020 - 8:25 pm

I didn’t know about this technique! And I’m sure this will help me in my preparation to university, because I have to learn various formulas. I wanna be a computer engineer and you’re a inspiration for me. Wish you all the best!! greetings from Peru

Reply
Marie November 25, 2020 - 11:19 pm

Hello Britney! I am very glad I could help you. If you try this method, please let me know your thoughts!
Marie

Reply
Amy December 11, 2020 - 6:17 pm

This seems like a very efficient method. I’m actually about to make one for my french exams as we are allowed to use them on the exam. I’ve done “cheat sheets” in the past and they have been very helpful for the future especially when learning a new language.

Reply
Marie December 17, 2020 - 5:25 pm

Hello Amy!
I’m very glad to know that you like my method!
I hope you do well on your French exam. Are you doing it online? How do you need a cheat sheet for an online exam? I am curious 🙂
Marie

Reply
Angela January 10, 2021 - 5:22 pm

This is very helpful!
Well, next week, I have a science exam online, and maybe, this could help a lot! I’ve had cheat sheets in the past, but I had to use a lot of paper for it…Thanks to you writing this article, it can help me very much to compose my cheat sheets.

Thanks Marie,

Angela 🙂

Reply
Marie June 3, 2021 - 8:24 pm

Hello Angela,
Thanks for your comment! Glad I was able to help with my blog post!
Marie

Reply
Manishka Sharma January 22, 2021 - 10:10 am

Wow! I am currently in Middle School and had to make a cheat sheet for a competition. I was looking all over the web and i am so lucky I found your website! These tips really helped! This is kinda easy and efficient! Just wondering, does the writing have to be sall for it to be efficient? I don’t have very good handwriting. 🙂

Reply
Marie June 3, 2021 - 8:34 pm

Hello Manishka!
I’m so happy you found my blog post after looking online! I was also not able to find much resources about making cheat sheets so I was happy to write this blog post about my method!
Very happy that my tips were able to help you!
I don’t think that your handwriting needs to be perfect. 🙂 I take the ruler and write slowly and take my time – I was also told my handwriting isn’t very good… lol! We can do this no matter our writing, only we have to understand ourselves and what we wrote!
Best,
Marie

Reply
Arjun May 20, 2021 - 12:30 am

Hey Marie, Recently my professor has sent 2 videos and asked me to write cheat sheets ?? what does it mean, do I need to copy the info from the video? or I have to do it by myself means writing the definitions on my own? please help me with this.

Reply
Marie June 3, 2021 - 8:07 pm

Hello Arjun! I think he would be the best person you could ask what he meant by the cheat sheet! But if it were me, in my country (because it could be different elsewhere), it means to understand the videos, condense the info and write on a sheet of paper what you would need to remember for a test or assignments. Good luck!

Reply

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