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A thematic analysis of students’ perspectives and opinions on the construction of exam support sheets

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Proceedings of the 2020 ASEE PSW Section Conference, canceled


Davis, California

Publication Date

April 30, 2020

Start Date

April 30, 2020

End Date

October 10, 2020

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Shant Aram Danielian University of California, Irvine

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Shant Aram Danielian is a graduate student in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Irvine. He received his B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering and applied mathematics, respectively, from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

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Vikram R Arun University of California - Irvine

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Vikram R. Arun is currently a senior at the University of California - Irvine. He is in the process of securing his bachelors in Mechanical engineering and a minor in management. He hopes to also pursue an MBA right after his undergraduate degree

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Natascha Trellinger Buswell University of California, Irvine Orcid 16x16

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Natascha Trellinger Buswell is an assistant professor of teaching in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Irvine. She earned her B.S. in aerospace engineering at Syracuse University and her Ph.D. in engineering education in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She is particularly interested in teaching conceptions and methods and graduate level engineering education.

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With increased content and material taught by university professors and instructors, students face difficulty in trying to memorize large amounts of course content in order to perform well on exams. In engineering specifically, there are a lot of equations that students either need to memorize, or have provided on an exam. To resolve this issue, professors often allow students to create and use support sheets, also known as cheat sheets or crib sheets, which contain useful information to aid them during an exam. This eases the burden of rote memorization, and hence can reduce student stress or anxiety during the exam.

The creation of the support sheet lies in the hands of the student, and each student can include any information they deem useful. The content of the support sheet can include diagrams, formulas, procedures or even a simple reminder. Since every sheet is student created, it brings into question whether certain course content is more prevalent and if inclusion of said content would increase exam performance. Numerous studies have already considered the content of the support sheets and how they relate to exam or course performance. More specifically in our previous study, we made successful attempts to correlate the type of information written, density and organizational rating of each sheet with the student’s course grade and exam performance.

For this study, we instead look at the student perspective in creating support sheets, and what they felt was most useful in the creation of the sheet as well as their usefulness during an exam. The main objective of this paper will be to address certain underlying questions such as, ‘What did the majority of students find important in assembling their support sheet?’, ‘What are the different ways and methods of designing a well formulated support sheet?’, ‘Would students regret omitting information or trying to improve their sheet every test?’. The answers to these questions will be correlated closely with the student’s grade, to check the success and proportionality of whether or not improvements made or mistakes avoided, affected their grade. To provide this detailed analysis of what we investigated, we inspected and coded 250 reflection responses provided by students immediately following their test. This research paper will likely appeal to instructors as it would provide valuable advise on guiding students, on the various methods of constructing a more precise and useful support sheet that could help them during the exam. The paper may also interest students as they work to create exam support sheets that will support them while studying as well as during an exam.

Danielian, S. A., & Arun, V. R., & Buswell, N. T. (2020, April), A thematic analysis of students’ perspectives and opinions on the construction of exam support sheets Paper presented at Proceedings of the 2020 ASEE PSW Section Conference, canceled, Davis, California.

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