Physics Cheat Sheets

Physics teachers and professors often allow the use of “cheat sheets” or “equation sheets” during exams. This is because physics is not really based on memorization, but rather on applying fundamental ideas to new and interesting situations. Also, the act of preparing a cheat sheet forces students to review and make a choice to determine the most important equations and concepts.

What makes a good cheat sheet? And what are some of the common problems to avoid?

Examples to come…

Here is a site with examples of cheat sheets, though it is biased towards upper-level courses.

Common problems:

  1. Using a cheat sheet you copied from one of your friends, or worse, one you downloaded off the internet. This is not a good idea, because you haven’t done the necessary work of integrating the ideas and equations in your head, so you won’t be able to use the sheet effectively. Also, many introductory physics textbooks use slightly different notation, or write equations in slightly different forms. This can really throw you off while you are taking an exam.
  2. Writing out your cheat sheet in pencil (it smudges) or a pen that runs. Self-explanatory why this is a problem. If you do prefer to write in pencil, it might be better to write the sheet, scan it, and then print out a copy. This way you won’t have to worry about smudging.
  3. Putting long worked-out problems on the cheat sheet instead of identifying the core equations and relationships. I have seen this happen many times. People fill their cheat sheet to the point where it is almost unreadable with homework problems and examples from the textbook. They then attempt to match up problems on the exam with their examples. This rarely works, especially if the exam is well-written. In order to succeed in physics, you need to identify the basic concepts, and then apply them to solve new problems. You will rarely see the same problem twice. People who make this mistake end up swimming through a sea of extraneous details while missing the main idea that could bring them to shore.