Use of a note page for tests

In various classes, including some basic chemistry classes, I allow a note sheet on tests. This page is what I tell students about the use of note sheets. It includes the procedural details, but also the thinking behind allowing note sheets and my specific procedures.

The use of note sheets has come up in numerous discussions, so it seems worthwhile to share this information. Teachers who allow note sheets use various procedures, with various reasons. Different test styles may call for different note-sheet procedures. One article about the topic is listed below. Students taking classes elsewhere may find my comments here interesting, but need to respect their instructor's choices.

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You may use a page of notes on tests. The information here is general, about the role of that note page and the rules for making it.

You are allowed one page (ordinary 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper; one side) of your own notes. You may write anything you want on your note page. Notes must be in your own handwriting; no copies of material from books are allowed.

If you want to prepare your note page on the computer, please check with me in advance. It is probably ok, so long as you keep to the spirit of the note page. That is, the note page is something you compose, and it should not contain tables of data or such.

IMPORTANT: Notes must conform to these procedures. I check note pages, and will not allow you to take the test with an improper note page.

Experience and student feedback say that a note page is most useful when it helps jog your mind about things you understand. You can write yourself little notes to double-check your common pitfalls. Long lists of facts are not helpful, and are not appropriate for chemistry tests; chemistry is not about memorizing lots of facts. Outlines of key ideas may be useful, to guide you.

Interestingly, students often tell me that the greatest value of the note page is the effort put into preparing it. You may spend quite some time thinking about how to organize your note page. And you may make one version after another until you "get it right". That is good (within reason). You may find that you use the note page on the test very little.

I am happy to discuss the note page with you in advance. If you would like, bring a draft note page, and your questions. We can discuss what is most appropriate for the note page.

Is it ok to take a test without using a note page? Yes; you are not required to use a note page. However, please think about why you are doing that. The "bad" reason is because you didn't get around to making a note page. That would seem to reflect poor preparation for the test in general; making your note page should be an integral part of test preparation.

If you want to skip using a note page because you want to set a higher standard for yourself (perhaps because of upcoming courses you know you will be taking), that is ok. However, even in this case, I might suggest that you make a note page, as part of your studying. You then have it available to you during the test. If you choose not to use it (or find you don't need it), that is fine, but at least you will have it as a backup -- and will benefit from the thought that went into preparing it.

You will get to use a note page on more than one test, so you get some chance to learn by your experience what works for you. After your first test with the note page (and after each such test?), think about... How did the note page help you (either during the test or in preparation)? What do you now wish had been on it? Use your experiences to help you make a better note page next time. This point is some argument for using a note page for the first test, even if you think you may not need it; you may benefit from the experience of trying it.

The following article may be of interest: C L Perrin (from UC San Diego), Reminder Sheets for Chemistry Examinations. J Chemical Education 74:1180, October 1997. I substantially agree with Perrin's discussion of the role of the note page. The only substantive difference is that I do not allow you to paste in copies of materials from books or other sources; that is, I ask that the notes really be your own.

We will supply other materials that are needed, such as a periodic table or names and structures of the common sugars. The general idea is to minimize memorization, but instead to focus on understanding and applying what you have learned. Thus we supply needed tables, such as the periodic table. The note page lets you supplement that with other things you find helpful.

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Last update: November 20, 2019