Context: I am an assistant professor of mathematics at a small liberal-arts college in the US.

I am currently teaching an applied mathematics course for about thirty students with business-related majors, and I want to give them the opportunity to use a sheet of notes (a.k.a cheat sheet) on their first exam. I am concerned about the implementation of this policy; specifically, I want to ensure the following:

  1. This policy is as beneficial to student learning as possible.
  2. I close any loopholes that could lead to unfairness or some other unforeseen problem on test day.

Some things I have already anticipated:

  1. I will give the students some starter material that they should include on their note sheet—important formulas, critical concepts, examples they should definitely be prepared to see, etc.

  2. Rules regarding the size of the notes are precise: Students may have a single sheet of 8.5″ × 11″ paper (or smaller), and they may write on either side of it.

  3. The notes must be handwritten as this requires the students to process the material. (See this question for more discussion on why I believe that ultimately helps my students.)
  4. I will not give a student their exam until they have removed everything from their desk except their note sheet and calculator. (I do not want them searching in their bag/book/folders once they have begun the exam.)

That leaves me with the following questions:

  1. Should I require students to turn in their notes to me before the exam? After the exam? Is their anything to be gained by me reviewing their notes?
  2. Would it be better for me to simply give them a formula sheet that I’ve prepared? I know that this will help the students who are too lazy to bring a notes sheet, but I feel like that’s on them.
  3. Are there other problems I should be prepared to confront? I want to do everything possible to avoid difficulties on the day of the exam.
  4. Is there research that supports/discourages the allowance cheat sheets? Am I actually doing something that’s ultimately beneficial to my students?

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