A reference sheet, often referred to as a memory aid or a “cheat sheet”, is a piece of paper that is either provided to or created by students to aid in memory of facts or formulas for tests or exams. Reference sheets are typically created by students so users are able to tailor the style of information presentation to their own needs (Erbe, 2007). Some teachers have found reference sheets can lead to reduced test anxiety, better studying, and allow teachers to assess students’ ability to apply and analyze information rather than focusing on rote memorization (e.g., Erbe, 2007; Cone, 2003).
The available research literature is relatively inconsistent when it comes to reference sheets, so Larwin, Gorman, and Larwin (2013) conducted a study looking at the results of the all of the available research on reference sheets to come to a more convincing conclusion. The authors found in 71.4% of the studies they reviewed, students showed better performance with reference sheets available. In fact, the authors found that students using a reference sheet performed better than 63% of students not using reference sheets. Larwin and colleagues also noted students performed the best when they created their own reference sheets, as this process required them to review, organize and clarify the material they were required to study. Most of these studies were completed on university students, but it is likely younger students would also benefit from reference sheets.
With regards to test anxiety, Dickson and Bauer (2008) examined student perceptions of using reference sheets and found that 75% of the students in their study reported that making and being able to use a reference sheet during exams made them feel less stressed. Hamouda and Shaffer (2016) reviewed the available research literature on test anxiety and reference sheets, and suggested the use of reference sheets did lead to a decrease in student stress. These suggestions were in spite of the fact they found no positive impact of reference sheets on student exam performance.
Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable.
Readily accessible and inexpensive
Can help to decrease test anxiety (Dickson & Bauer, 2008)
May lead to improved learning of test or exam material
May lead to better performance on test and exams
Students may take a lot of time to consolidate and analyze information to include on the reference sheet
Student-created reference sheets will likely result in better performance than teacher-provided reference sheets (Larwin et al., 2013)
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Cone, D. I. (2003). Benefits of a “cheat sheet”. The Physics Teacher, 41, 509-510.
Dickson, K. L., & Bauer, J. J. (2008). Do students learn course material during crib sheet construction?. Teaching of Psychology, 35, 117-120.
Erbe, B. (2007). Reducing test anxiety while increasing learning: The cheat sheet. College Teaching, 55, 96-98.
Hamouda, S., & Shaffer, C. A. (2016). Crib sheets and exam performance in a data structures course. Computer Science Education, 26, 1-26.
Larwin, K. H., Gorman, J., & Larwin, D. A. (2013). Assessing the impact of testing aids on post-secondary
student performance: A meta-analytic investigation. Educational Psychology Review, 25, 429–443.
Written by Bronwyn Lamond, Last Revision March 2018