Can I take a cheat sheet?

The first maths exams for the year are tomorrow, so recently I’ve been talking to more and more students about exams. To be clear, I’m not complaining about this! It’s a really important part of the MLC’s role to give students advice about exams, since they have such a huge impact on the students’ experience of learning maths at uni. We can make a big difference to people by simply helping them cope with this stressful time.

Anyway, one question that keeps cropping up is, “Can we take a cheat sheet into our exam?”, and the answer for the regular maths courses here at Uni of Adelaide is no. I’m not complaining about this either, because I believe that the process of memorising things strengthens connections in your brain that you will need for problem-solving. Moreover it’s easier to figure out how to do new things if you have a good stock of old things you are really familiar with.

I’m not even complaining about the fact that students ask the question in the week before the exam. It’s perfectly reasonable to start looking around for ways to reduce your stress when you are in a stressful situation, even if your hope for relief is based on the slim chance that you just happened to miss a vital piece of exam administrative information.

No, what I am complaining about is this: no-one seems to be teaching students skills to help them remember things while they’re teaching the maths! It seems obvious to me that if you expect students to remember things, you should support them in learning how to remember things. This is especially true if you know full well that they don’t have these skills already because the majority of them were allowed to take cheat sheets into all their exams in high school!

Of course, it doesn’t change what my response is to the “Can I take a cheat sheet?” question. The response is to say no, and then give them some advice for how to remember things and talk to them about how it will help them do problem-solving if they do. I just wish more of that sort of thing was done at the moment they first learned the maths.

Ok. My complaining is over. Now it’s off to the MLC Drop-In Room for the last day before the exam…

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