# The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you're an artist

Cheat sheets are paradoxical things when I was a student: the more thought I put into making one, the less likely I actually needed to use it during the test.   For me, designing a cheat sheet was one of the best ways to study for a test, and I often found that I would make one even for exams on which they were not allowed just to help me organize my thoughts for the exam.   As a result, as a semester proceeds I often allow students to make their own cheat sheets, in the hope that they might find them similarly useful.

Many do, but probably just as many make something like this:

Not only does this 3×5 card have a boatload of formulas and a complete duplicate solutions guide to a practice exam crammed onto it in miniscule 4 point Arial font, but if you rotate it clockwise ninety degrees you’ll see additional integration formulas written over them in pencil.   The student said that it took him something like six hours to typeset the card the night before the exam, but in the end we only got a 40% on the exam, largely because (a) he couldn’t find anything on the card and (b) since he spent all his time copying formulas onto his cheat sheet rather than, say, attempting to comprehend what any of them meant, he didn’t even know what he was supposed to look for even if he could find it.

I use this as an example in class when I tell students about cheat sheets, and encourage them to not just perform a “formula dump” on a smallish piece of paper, but to spend time thinking about what things might actually help them, and how to organize those things to make it easy to find.

This semester, many students seemed to take this to heart, and I got a number of unique and clever cheat sheets.

For example, some students don’t need lots of formulas, they just need a little bit of encouragement.   By Batman, for example:

(In case you can’t read it, Batman says Good luck on your test, TJ!   Gothan City depends on it!)

Other students spent time organizing their cheat sheets various ways.   If your work can be subdivided into, say, six major topics, don’t just partition your cheat sheet into six subregions. That’s soooo 2D.   Buck up and add the extra dimension:

Another version was to anthropomorphize the subject matter as, well, me:

(Apparently, this is a common theme for me.)

Speaking of cheating, albeit tangentially, I thought my students’ plagiarizing crappy solutions to two-point calculus problems (summarized here and here) was a bad enough… but plagiarizing your valedictory speech?

At Columbia University?

By stealing from a web-savvy comedian whose job is, in part, to destroy hecklers?

Sucks to be this guy.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.