Is a cheat sheet really what you want?

Call me a fuddy duddy, but I’m not a fan of the term ‘cheat sheet’.

All the dictionary definitions of ‘cheat sheet’ that I have seen refer to use of said sheet for the purpose of cheating.  The word ‘cheat’ gives me the creeps.  For an academic, dealing with cheating is a lot of work.  A lot.

Nonetheless, I’ve heard a lot of academics use the term to refer to allowable exam materials.  It bothers me that they are validating the notion of cheating, as if cheating is okay under some circumstances.  The internet is loaded with apparently legitimising examples, many of which are so fancy I would expect they’d be better matched to searches for ‘infographics’. Even educator websites use the dreaded term to describe what are essentially summaries of course notes.

Source: Smart-Student

Why can they not just be called ‘summaries’ then?

I’m a huge fan of summaries.  Everything should be summarised.  Weekly notes, topic modules, term subjects, and even whole courses… Yes, I love summaries.  The more a student fiddles with course concepts, finding where each fits in the overall puzzle, the more the student will remember, and the better his/her understanding is likely to be.

So why does it matter what they’re called?

Higher education makes a big deal out of terminology; testing students’ knowledge of topic-specific jargon definitions, and grading general language usage in every essay… So no good can come from muddying the waters with hypocritical terminology.  That’s what it is.  Let’s all (students and teachers alike) just call the sheet by a name that reflects its intended purpose: A summary.

Unless of course you intend to cheat.  But in that case, it would be silly to have written evidence of it, eh?

If you have a different view of cheat sheets, let us know in the comments below.  If you’d like to share a great example you found on the internet, (or an one you made yourself), you can include a link – or just upload a photo to Nerdy Swot’s Facebook page at any time.

Until next time, #MindYourMojo

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Featured image from 
CHEAT SHEET.  I made this crib note during my freshman year of high school in order to cheat on a Biology exam.”



  1. Hi Dr. Kerri…you know I had to read this piece twice to really understand it, cos lik in Africa we aint got no official ‘cheat sheet’ allowed into an exam hall but of course trust students dey carry unofficial cheat sheets or summary as u would prefer it.
    P.S. I was actually mouth agape wen i was read dis stuff for the second time….Very engaging piece

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kenze.

      Thank you for taking the time to re-read, and also for your comment.

      You have prompted me to think of two more posts that might be more helpful to students, and which I hope to upload today.

      Thank you 🙂


    • Thanks Robert. But I have to give the credit to a student (who says she did use it to cheat!).

      When I used to teach auditing, my students were allowed to take one A4 page of handwritten notes into their final exam, and they had to hand in the sheet with their exam answers. It’s astounding how much a person can write on just one sheet of paper! Many of them were beautiful in their detail and color, even if they were barely legible. Finding this student’s example on the internet brought a nostalgic smile to my face.


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