crib-sheets.pngBy Ken Newman, Ed.D.

Some courses can seem less exciting than others to students. By perception at least, Curriculum Development and Implementation was one of those undervalued courses! My mission was to change that perception. Determined to never allow it to become dull and boring, I kept a sharp eye out for innovative ways to deliver the material. While thumbing through Learning Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer (2002), I happened upon a section entitled "Using the Exam Itself Better" (p. 135).  

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Crib Sheets and Exams

Some courses can seem less exciting than others to students. By perception at least, Curriculum Development and Implementation was one of those undervalued courses! My mission was to change that perception. Determined to never allow it to become dull and boring, I kept a sharp eye out for innovative ways to deliver the material. While thumbing through Learning Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer (2002), I happened upon a section entitled "Using the Exam Itself Better" (p. 135). Based on the work of Jules Janick (1990) and Charles Cassini (1994), Weimer advocates having students prepare crib sheets or cards to use during the exam. Students are allowed to include any information, facts, or formulas they think they might need to answer the exam questions. Weimer feels the preparation of the card itself has significant learning potential. Janick observes, "The development of a good crib sheet resembles its antithesis: studying." Weimer cites Cassini who passes out the exam question and then allows students to collaborate for 20 minutes with other students, while adding to their crib sheets. Then, while they are writing the exam, they can use any and all notes taken.

Crib SheetsWeimer indicates the rationale behind both approaches rests on the fact that access to information is seldom denied in professional context. The ability to quickly find and organize information matters more than whether or not you can carry it in your head.

With Weimer's discussion in mind, I decided to try it out in the curriculum class. I instructed my students to prepare a crib sheet on a 4 x 6 index card, which I provided. After strange looks and a multitude of questions, I assured them that I was, indeed, serious-and to trust me. They left class, cards in hand, with a week to prepare for the exam. Meanwhile, I further pondered what Weimer, Janick, and Cassini had to say. I decided the essential question arising from the class was "What is Curriculum?" So, that was my only exam question. On the night of the exam, following Cassini's example, I invited students to partner or group with other students to discuss their crib sheets. I gave each student two sticky notes to use for additional information from their discussions and to attach these notes to their crib sheets. After 20 minutes, they were then given a 3 x 5 index card on which to answer the exam question, What is Curriculum? As professionals, if asked that same question, they would have a variety of resources at hand-and the response would probably be briefly stated. I further felt the brevity of the response would provide a deeper response, thus moving them higher up Bloom's Taxonomy.

For the most part, the results were quite satisfactory. Some, of course, couldn't quite trust the process, while others majored on minor details rather than the bigger picture. Some felt the 3 x 5 card didn't provide enough room for sufficient pontification (which I was trying to avoid anyway). The majority, however, simply nailed the exam by analyzing and evaluating and providing a succinct answer to "What is Curriculum?" I certainly wouldn't have been embarrassed by their answers for a man-on-the-street interview! After reflecting on the entire process, I feel this same strategy could be used successfully on both the undergraduate level, as well as in at least grades 6-12. For those grades, this strategy would seem to fit in with Common Core State Standards, especially since a great emphasis of CCSS is higher, deeper thinking. It's at least worth a try. Remember Janick's observation, "The development of a good crib sheet resembles its antithesis: studying." Isn't that what we as educators want?

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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