Free resources for enterprising students hoping to learn about STEM competitions such as Science Olympiad or simply expand their scientific knowledge, also featuring a ScioVirtual blog posting important updates, events, and various articles.
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Create Your Cheatsheet with Tips from Pros
So, you want to make a cheatsheet, but don’t know how to begin. Fret not, because here are some foolproof tips from real competitors to help you get started. While reading, please keep in mind that while these tips work well for us here on the ScioVirtual team, you may find something completely different works for you — take the time to explore and get to know your personal cheatsheeting style. Making a cheatsheet is a laborious process, but remember that at the end you’ll get a beautiful, 10,000-word, knowledge-packed baby that is your main tool to succeed in competition. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
If you have access to Microsoft Word, use it. Specific reasons for this choice will be explained later, but suffice to say it’s superior in terms of both formatting and functionality. You can, however, still make great cheatsheets with Google Docs.
Some schools provide Microsoft Word to students for free; reach out to your coach or teachers to see if this applies to you.
Make all margins as small as possible while still being printable; this is usually 0.13-0.25 inches. Write additional information in the margins after you print.
Try to find a printer with narrow margins, whether it be your printer, a friend’s, a school printer, etc. You may need to test print a couple of times to see how big the margins are.
Use columns for organization. A cheatsheet can have anywhere from 3-8 columns depending on picture sizes and other factors.
You can make, at most, three columns in Google Docs; this is one of the reasons Microsoft Word is better.
Make the amount of space between columns as little as possible. I usually go for around 0.10.
Do not do anything, formatting-wise, that wastes space; it is a precious commodity. For example, don't indent your paragraphs (for obvious reasons).
Avoid using bullet points or numbered lists; these indent your text and in general are a pain to deal with. Instead, hold the ALT key and type 0149 to get •, a single bullet point. On a Mac, use Option → 8, in Google Docs, try Insert → Special Characters. You can also look up ALT codes and shortcuts for various other symbols: ◘♦♣○.
Tables can be great for organization, but use them sparingly (again, for the sake of space). Make cell margins and borders as small as possible. You can also fill the cells with different colors for organization.
Don’t add things you can memorize to your cheatsheet. For example, if you’re doing Anatomy, you might want to memorize the regional and directional terms because they appear in the event every year and are fairly easy to remember. Then, you won’t need to take up space on your cheatsheet with that information.
The content of your cheatsheet is not restricted to what’s on the rules; in fact, you should have more. Ask your ScioVirtual instructor, refer to our Ultimate Guides, ask your captains or coaches, etc. for advice on what additional information you should study for each event.
Be familiar with all the content on your cheatsheet. Do not just copy-paste information from the Internet onto your cheatsheet and call it a day; you should truly be familiar with and understand every bit of information on your cheatsheet. It is a tool to help you remember information that is difficult to memorize, but should not take the place of studying and grasping concepts.
Add a lot of images and diagrams while conserving space by adhering to the following: Crop the images so they are as small as possible while still containing all of the information you need. Keep in mind you can write captions and labels on top of your images or in the margins of your cheatsheet after you print. Rotate the images so they fit together better.
FONTS AND COLORS
Use font sizes 2-5 (and get used to reading small text).
Shorten and abbreviate whenever possible; do not write in complete sentences. A lot of conjunctions can easily be abbreviated. For example, “and” can become “&” or “+” and “because” can become “b/c.” Avoid, however, being overly ambiguous in your abbreviations. The most important thing is that you understand what the cheatsheet says.
The following fonts are best for conserving space while remaining legible: EB Garamond, Arial Narrow, Times New Roman, Calibri, Stint Ultra Condensed.
Color code your text! You can use different colored highlighting in place of making new paragraphs or sections to save space. For example, if I were making a Dynamic Planet cheatsheet and wanted to format a section on coastal features, I might highlight erosional features blue and depositional features green. If you’re making a glossary, you can highlight each “letter” a new color. For example, all words that start with the letter A could be red, all words that start with B could be blue, etc.
Yet another reason Microsoft Word is superior: the fill button. In addition to selecting multiple words to highlight, you can select the entire paragraph and shade the entire background. You can also highlight over a filled paragraph, which adds yet another level of organization.
Use light colors when highlighting; it will still show up in print.
Make “banners” for major headings with bold text and brightly colored highlighting so that each topic is easy to find. Refrain from excessive bolding or underlining unless it's for headers or banners.
Make sure that you are familiar with the cheatsheet’s structure and that it makes sense to you. You should be able to find any piece of information on your cheatsheet very quickly, because on a timed test speed is often what differentiates competitors.
Italicize anything that you feel like you won’t use often but don’t want to take off of the cheatsheet. Italicized font is harder to read but takes up much less space.
There you have it: everything you need to know to get started on your very own cheatsheet. Keep in mind that while you will need to finish this cheatsheet pretty early in the school year — in fact, it should be one of your first priorities when it comes to studying, it will remain a work-in-progress all season long. This means you should continue updating and improving your cheatsheet as you go. And as long as you keep trying, I can guarantee you’ll end up with a beautiful cheatsheet baby that you’re more than proud of.
With that, thanks for reading, and happy studying!