The Crib Sheet: A Different Kind of Final Exam

A few semesters ago, my  friend Jessica, an instructional designer, clued me in on a creative way to give the final exam in my Advanced Business Writing course.

Instead of writing an exam and having students respond to my questions, students tell me what they have learned in the course. I do provide some structure so their responses reflect course objectives and learning goals, but generally, students are on their own to tell me what they have learned.

The exam takes the form of a crib sheet. The instructions to the students are as follows:

Format & Design:

  • Fit the crib sheet into 2 – 4, 8 x 11 pages.
  • Be sure the document is visually appealing.  The layout is up to the you, but it should reflect principles of readability and document design we discussed in class.
  • Create the crib sheet in any software you wish (MS Word, MS Publisher, InDesign), but submit it in .pdf format to the D2L dropbox by Thursday, December 22, at 10 a.m. (-5 if the file is submitted in any other format).


  • The crib sheet must contain information on these topics:
    • Formal reports
    • Document design
    • Instructions
    • Writing for the Web vs. writing for print
    • News releases
    • Style
  • The crib sheet must contain at least five “take away” items under each topic that you want to remember or that you think you might need to refer to if you were asked to create these documents in a job, classroom, or internship setting. In the case of the course style guide, you might include elements of the guide that you find tricky to understand or that you tend to forget. You may include more than five items under any topic.
  • The information must be in your own words (don’t copy and paste from the notes or PowerPoints or copy directly from your textbook).
  • The information must be accurate.

Tone, Style, Correctness

You will also be assessed on the following:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Compliance with the course style guide
  • Mechanics
  • Professional tone and style

Students seem to enjoy this exam format. Many of them use Smart Art, shapes, color, graphics, or a brochure-type layout—anything that helps them visually organize and present the information they want to take away from the course.

Grading for this assignment is easy and quick. In my experience, students are fairly engaged in the exam and want to do well so that they can use the exam beyond the course. Give this a try. We would like to hear how it works for you. If you would like to see a sample exam, please email me at

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