When I was revising for the IB, the 3 biggest roadblocks I faced were: (1) the overwhelming amount of content, (2) my inability to locate the right content, and (3) my failing ability to remember the content. Faced with these problems, I started thinking creatively. Eventually, this evolved into my ‘Cheat sheets Note-taking Method’, which I would be sharing in this blog post!
Layout (A4 Paper)
What sets this method apart from others is how all information can be viewed at a glance. As I found turning hundreds of textbook pages overwhelming, I decided to challenge myself to squeeze the content into single sheets of paper, usually one-to-two sided per chapter. This depended on the subject:
- SL Mathematics AA (3 sides)
- HL Chemistry (28 pages, usually 1-2 pages per topic, separated into SL/HL)
I wrote my notes in portrait-orientation, splitting the page into 3 columns of 7cm each. In a way, this was like mind-mapping, just a lot more condensed and compact.
I used colors to distinguish visual hierarchy, but also to boost memory. For instance, red and blue are said to enhance memory retention by about 31%!
- Black: Topic and subtopic headers
- Blue/Blue-Black: Main body text
- Red: general important information (e.g. keywords in definitions, formulas)
- Green: examples, sample questions
- Purple: exam application (e.g. GDC skills, model answer formats for DRQ, commonly tested information)
- Yellow (highlighted): first revision, important information for exam-taking
- Orange (highlighted): second revision, small details that IB tests
- Pink (highlighted): third onward revision, information I have a tendency to forget
1. Reading, understanding, condensing
Avoid blind copying of information to the best of your ability — it defeats the purpose of creating cheat sheets as a form of revision. Instead, think critically about information, identifying the essential parts, and then using tables and concise pointers to aid your future revision.
Pro Tip: create your own mnemonics to help you recall information! For example, in Economics, factors of demand are EGYPT:
- Government intervention
- Yd (disposable income)
- Price of complements and substitutes
- Tastes and preferences.
2. Completing your notes ASAP
To prevent any major backlog of work, I always made sure to create and update my notes as soon as possible! This would be in the breaks right after classes covering the content, or as I was doing practice questions and learning new information.
Of course, given that you would constantly be updating your notes, remember to leave gaps in the margins! Otherwise, use post-its for easy reference.
3. Don’t create your cheat sheets during class time
Probably a little ironic given the previous point. But, especially if your teacher is good, try your best to pay attention in class instead of writing and creating your cheat sheets! While this would save time, by not dedicating 100% of your attention to the class, you are likely to miss out on important bits. You may even waste time relearning the content by yourself afterwards.
Additionally, try treating the creation of your cheat sheets as an opportunity for revision. It trains active recall, further developing your understanding of the content.
Because writing helps increase your attention to the lesson, I would encourage you to do a rough, legible albeit disorganized version of note-taking during class time. Only convert these notes into cheat sheets after your lessons.
4. Why this method works
Your hippocampus is used for both navigation and remembering information. Hence, by combining both colors and location (of information on the page), memory retention is increased. For instance, my thought processes answering questions would literally be: Which halogen allows a faster rate of reaction during Nucleophilic Substitution? Top left-hand corner of the second page of my Organic Chemistry notes, in yellow… Iodine!
That was a random fact off the top of my head (I haven’t touched Chemistry in months), so it’s definitely testament to the effectiveness of this method.
I hope you found this guide to how I made my cheat sheets useful! You can reference the photo below if you need a sample: