Anaheim Private Tutoring Tips: Making a “Cheat Sheet” for Your Test

A “cheat sheet” usually refers to a piece of paper or a notecard that a student has filled with information that they have learned or that they will need for an exam.  There are four different situations where a cheat sheet is commonly used by students. Our private Anaheim tutors are here to help you prepare for your test.

The teacher allows it and checks it

A teacher may allow you to create a cheat sheet and bring it with you for the test.  If the teacher is checking your cheat sheet, they are likely doing so for one of two reasons.  First, they may have required you to make a cheat sheet and are actually grading it as a completed assignment.  Teachers assign cheat sheets to force you to make one as a way of studying.

Second, they may only be allowing certain material to be on the cheat sheet, or there may be limitations to the size of the cheat sheet.  For example, a teacher may only allow you to write down formulas or equations, and they may only allow the cheat sheet to be a single side of an index card.  Other rules might be that you have to make your own cheat sheet, that you can’t put any written-out problems or examples, or that the cheat sheet has to be typed and a certain point font.  Always make sure you know the rules for making a cheat sheet to be used during a test – you don’t want yours to be confiscated and leave you with nothing.

The teacher allows it and doesn’t check it

Often times, a teacher will allow you to bring a cheat sheet with you for a test, but they won’t check them beforehand.  This allows you full control of what you put on your cheat sheet without worrying about any restrictions.  Teachers may do this because they believe that the exam is testing knowledge that can’t easily be written on a cheat sheet, or because they are content if you can quickly find the information you need from an external source.

A teacher allowing a cheat sheet is also a method of reducing stress for students.  Having something available for them to check – even if they already knew the information – can take some of the pressure or testing anxiety away.  It is also less hectic than having a test that is open-note or open-book; there is no frantically flipping through pages when all you have is one sheet.

You are making the cheat sheet for yourself as a study tool

Making a cheat sheet can be beneficial even if your teacher doesn’t allow one to be used on a test.  In fact, when teachers allow a cheat sheet, it is often because they recognize what a powerful study tool it is.  Students will make the sheet because they feel like it is an easy way to get a better grade.  It also feels less like studying and more like a sneaky trick to get questions correct.

In reality, the process of making a cheat sheet is actually a form of studying.  Searching your notes, textbooks, and the internet for information, pruning, and selecting the most important material, then writing it all down in an organized manner is almost identical to what you would do if you were making a study guide, notes, or just studying in general.  Many teachers find that students often don’t even need to use their cheat sheet during a test after they’ve made one.

This means that you can choose to make a cheat sheet for yourself just to study.  This is especially valuable for early tests in your class.  By the time you’re studying for the final, you’ll already have a few review cheat sheets to look at and prepare.

You are making a cheat sheet to cheat during the test

This is where the “cheat sheet” gets its name – from students who prepare a small piece of paper with notes on it to sneak into class and use it on an exam.  There is no need for this if you’ve put in the time you should into your class and your studying.  Often, cheating in this way is punished extremely severely in schools.  The risk-to-reward ratio of cheating in this way is rarely worth it.  If you are planning on making a cheat sheet to actually cheat, consider making it larger and more detailed, then simply use it to study.  Make multiple and see if you can write one from memory.  You may find that everything you were going to put on the cheat sheet, you can commit to memory instead.

Here, you can see four examples of very detailed cheat sheets hand-made and posted by students on  Notice things like the use of color, the blocking and lines for organization, pictures, and diagrams, and small handwriting.

Your cheat sheet doesn’t have to look like these.  These are only examples of what some students have created to help them be prepared for a test.  If your teacher allows you to make a cheat sheet, consider putting the time in to make it organized and detailed.  If your teacher doesn’t allow cheat sheets but you are looking for a way to study, consider making one anyone.  Making pages like this is a great way to find, prioritize, construct, and then study information.  Just don’t bring it to the test if it isn’t allowed.

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Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

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