Application Oriented Tests and Crib Sheets are a Winning Partnership

My examination philosophy is to test the application of what is being covered and minimize the level of memorization and regurgitation involved. The workplace and life is about applying your education, not the recollection of memorizing facts, processes and definitions.  My tests focus on critical thinking and the application of course topics similar to the problem-solving exercises in class and their weekly assignments. Because these tests minimize straightforward recollection of information, I allow the students to bring a crib sheet.  The benefits of students preparing a crib sheet are significant and include:

  •  An effective test preparation technique as students are forced to consolidate notes logically
  •  Students spend more quality time studying than they might have otherwise
  • Students retain majority of information without the anxiety associated with memorization
  • Provide an objective barometer for assessing student effort when students perform poorly

The comments made by a student on a mid-semester survey about his first management information systems test best summarizes the many above benefits of using a crib sheet in conjunction with an application oriented test.

“The use of a crib sheet for test one was helpful.  It really helped me to study when I was setting it up and although I didn’t use it much during the test I did like knowing that it was there just in case I couldn’t recall something.  The layout you gave us to create the crib sheet helped a great deal.  Most tests I take in my other classes take me about 20-30 minutes to complete, however this was not the case with this test.  The test took me almost the whole class [75 minutes]. Although it seems grueling to have to go through this, when I got my grade back and saw how well I did given all of the material that was on it as well as how long it took I felt really good about myself.  I knew I spent a good amount of time studying for this test so getting such a great grade back really helped me to feel more confident about myself.”

Guidelines for Crib Sheets

I allow students up to four sides of standard, 8½” by 11” sheets of paper to be referenced during the test.  Many students are more accustomed to referring to this examination approach as a cheat sheet, but for obvious reasons crib sheet is more appealing to me.   The crib sheets can be hand-written or typed and both approaches can be equally effective.  It is vital for students to personally generate the crib sheet, anything less undermines the merits of the process. In my syllabus I state clearly what a crib sheet is not:

 “Crib Sheets CAN NOT be: (i) Copied portions of book, lecture notes, study guides, prior tests.   Crib sheets must be generated originally by YOU either typed or handwritten.”

During engineering school I was exposed to this crib sheet approach except that I was only allowed one piece of paper, front and back.  I do not support this limitation as too much time is spent re-writing words so tiny in order to fit everything in.   I prefer not making this a magnifying glass exercise; but, allowing students sufficient space to comfortably type or handwrite notes. 

 An Effective Test Preparation Technique as Students are Forced to Consolidate Notes Logically

For each test I conduct a forty-five minute review along with distributing a Summary Review of all the areas they are responsible for.   This Review Summary, See Premium Attachment example, serves a road map for the student to comprehensively study for the test.   In conjunction with developing their four-page crib sheet students are directed to review their lecture slides, in-class assignments, video segment worksheets, unannounced quizzes, and most importantly their weekly assignments.   A properly prepared crib sheet forces the students to review all these various documents and determine what is important enough to include in their crib sheet. This is a terrific technique that results in most students spending a significant amount of time re-learning the many topics and applications covered.  There is a great deal of satisfaction from completing a well done crib sheet.  Notice the student’s comment from earlier survey response:

 “The use of a crib sheet for test one was helpful.  It really helped me to study when I was setting it up… The layout [Study Review] you gave us to create the crib sheet helped out a great deal.”

Students Spend More Quality Time Studying Than They Might Have Otherwise

A crib sheet is straight forward process, but it is also very time consuming for the student.  Motivated students will spend time regardless of whether a crib sheet is required or not.  However crib sheets create an effective educational process that encourages the students with lower motivation levels to adequately prepare for a test. 

I am often astounded by the lack of time commitment by many students in preparing for a major test or a cumulative final.  Students may either not care or have a false sense of confidence that leads to insufficient preparation time. Students are required to staple their crib sheets to their respective tests and I explain that I often review them for various reasons. Does a student with a lower motivation level dare submit a poor-quality crib sheet in fear that it will be obvious to the professor they did not adequately prepare?   There are always some students who don’t care, but the crib sheet process motivates many less committed students to adequately prepare.

Students Retain Majority of Information without the Anxiety Associated With Memorization

The comment from the student survey says it all,

“ … although I didn’t use it much during the test I did like knowing that it was there just in case I couldn’t recall something.”

 Although my main goal is not to have students memorize the extensive materials written on their crib sheet, I am convinced that this process indirectly produces this.  Consistent with the comment above many students comment on how little they actually reference their crib sheet, they knew the material without having to look. The process of consolidating notes to a crib sheet involves: (i) deciding whether to include the material, (ii) writing down the material in a format that is most logical for the student, and (iii) reviewing contents for accuracy and completeness.  This multi-step process results in the memorization of the majority of information contained on their crib sheet.

This effective memorization technique comes without the anxiety that is associated with a testing environment where the student is not allowed to bring any notes to the exam.

Provides an Objective Barometer for Assessing Student Effort When Students Perform Poorly

A student not completing a quality crib sheet, or no crib sheet at all, is a very obvious embarrassment. Without this crib sheet technique, the professor has no objective measurement to respond during those frequent office visits where students communicate that they are not pleased with their grade.  There is a strong correlation between the test grade and the level of quality effort exhibited by the crib sheet.    Except for some very bright students that are keeping up with the class effectively, very few students with poorly constructed crib sheets do well on the tests.   When a student complains about their grade, it is often quite easy to attribute this to their lack of preparation as evidenced by a poor crib sheet.  Students often try to blame their poor performance on the professor for some reason and it is invaluable to have an objective document that points the blame with the party responsible, the student.

Crib Sheets Far Superior than Open Book Tests

Some professors choose to allow students to bring anything they want including the textbook and thus are referred to as Open Book Tests.  I am not a proponent of this as students often under study as they have a false security that they can look anything up anything they may need.  Compared to the crib sheet approach, it robs the student of the great learning experience of consolidating a set of notes.

Propelling the Testing Experience Forward

Preparing for and taking a test should be a positive learning experience.  The preparation process should involve an extensive amount of reflection and practice with course concepts.   The actual test should be a worthwhile learning experience of extending and applying the student’s knowledge;  not a simplistic multiple choice test of recollection as reflected in student’s survey response, “Most tests I take in my other classes take me about 20-30 minutes to complete.”

The crib sheet process is a win-win situation as it creates a process that motivates the vast majority of students to prepare effectively, while providing the professor an objective tool to combat subjective complaints regarding poor performance.

The combination of application oriented testing and crib sheet preparation can create a very rewarding experience for the student as stated so powerfully in the survey comment,

Although it seems grueling to have to go through this, when I got my grade back and saw how well I did given all of the material that was on it as well as how long it took I felt really good about myself. I knew I spent a good amount of time studying for this test so getting such a great grade back really helped me to feel more confident about myself.”

Comments

  1. Wow, some real world advice, I must be out of the class room.

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