Cheat Sheets

I've been half hoping to find a cheat sheet around campus somewhere, but having failed to come across one, I recently broke down and started looking for examples on flickr.

Cheat sheets of the DIY variety (as opposed to highly produced ones like this one) function both as clandestine and sanctioned test-taking-tools; I'm drawn to them for:
  • the visual rhetoric of density in cheat sheets
  • the many ways authors mark emphasis in a cheat sheet
  • for the way this kind of writing can be part of a test-prep learning process—even if that learning is only really assessed in terms of short term memory
  • and for the embodied practices of information retrieval when a clandestine cheat sheet is involved

Flickr user gauravgollerkeri has this cheat sheet up on the site, and it's described as "One side of my cheat sheet for the killer exam-- AC436":

Another example is posted by aaronx85 and looks like this:

Though both of these cheat sheets were sanctioned as part of the test-taking situation, we know of clandestine cheat sheets, too.

In composition/rhetoric, our attention to plagiarism seems to keep us from attending much to other literate practices of cheating. Creating cheat sheets is hard work, and using them clandestinely is probably equally challenging. This Chronicle article, from last year, describes an exhibit devoted to cheating tools, including a pair of "panties ... [on] the front of which logarithms and mathematical formulas have been penned, upside down, in black ink ... as a contemporary artifact, a paean to the science of cheating."

I had a friend in college who I once saw preparing to cheat on his astronomy exam by writing various facts on his leg. Ripped jeans were all the rage in 1989, if you recall, and MB placed this writing-on-his-body carefully so it would be readily accessible through some of more frayed and tattered portions of his 501s. (In the interest of full reporting, I should note that MB dropped out of college that term or the next.)

Anyway, yeah: written practices of the vernacular cheat sheet involve careful and personal document design, thoughtful distillation and synthesis of the material, a visual rhetoric of density, and often bodily practices of subterfuge and information retrieval. Oh, and this all goes down around a piece of disposable writing, which is always worth thinking about in the context of what we often assume to be the unparalleled coupling of writing and permanence.


  1. I don't think my students use hand written cheat sheets any more. With cell phones, graphing calculators and all the rest all cheating is pretty much electronic now. I makes it harder to find physical traces of it - thus the point.

  2. Did you do a google image search for cheat sheet? Lots and lots of results there.

    This one is my favorite.

  3. Ra-ha-ha! That's a good cheat sheet.

    And yep, K, those new cheating tools are certainly eclipsing old literate practices.