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OPINION: If you can use your notes, why can't I?

notes
Creative Commons | The Daily Wildcat

If we can use notes in real jobs, why can't we use them during exams in college? Photo: "Pencil N' Paper" by quacktaculous/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) 

As students in college, our classes are very important to us. Are they the most important all the time though? Honestly, no. We still want to have fun and enjoy life outside of the classroom, but to graduate we must do well in our classes. That's why we show up to class, listen to our professors and take good notes. Good notes are essential if you want to do well in school. We reference our notes for homework, projects and, most of all, our exams. 

In my experience, exams usually make up 50% or more of a student’s grade in a class, so it is essential to do well on all of them. One bad grade on an exam can result in a disappointing grade or even failing a class.

Thank goodness you have your notes though. If you are stuck on a problem, you can just flip through, find the answer and pass that exam! All's well that ends well, right? 

It may seem like that should be the case, but it's often not.

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Many professors do not allow their students to use notes on an exam. They see it as making the exam too easy, and in college, nothing is supposed to be easy. 

Professors seem to believe that if students have notes during an exam, that they will get a 100% every time, which is not necessarily true. The only way I personally get a 100% on an exam using notes is if every note I took happens to be on the exam. Students are not perfect, and we miss important details all the time in class. 

The irony is that in the real world, almost every single profession uses notes as they work throughout the day. Without their notes, they could not finish their work- and nobody ever tells them they cannot use their notes. 

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No scientist has been told they cannot reference their notes of past experiments because their next experiment would be too easy if they used notes. No doctor has been told they cannot look at the notes they took at a conference because then every surgery would be a success 100% of the time. 

Has any professor ever sat back and thought if this strategy is helping more students succeed? Say you have a first-generation college student who shows up for their first college exam. Their whole life they were told they were not smart enough to go to college, or that they would drop out after their first semester. Instead, they beat the odds and made it to the college of their dreams. 

They studied all week into the late hours of the night, knowing that this exam is worth 25% of their grade. They also had to study 30 pages of notes, and they can only remember so much. The exam starts and they do not know the first question. Immediately, their confidence is gone, and the exam breaks them. When they go back to their dorm and open their notebook, they see the answer to the first question on their very first page of notes. 

A week later they get back their exam grade, a 61%. Then thoughts of doubt creep in their mind. “Maybe everybody was right. I am not smart enough to survive college, and I should just go home.” What hurts the most is that they were smart enough — they took such good notes that the answer was there. Just because you forget something does not mean you are not smart. 

It is too late though. That student is gone, and they may never believe that they were destined for anything great. They may just see themselves worth 61% less than everyone else. 

You know who is also not told they are not allowed to use notes? Yeah, the answer is teachers. Too bad that was not a question on an exam. I would get a 100%, with no notes needed.


Follow Sean Fagan on Twitter



Sean is a business administration major from California. He enjoys playing video games and watching Disney+ in his free time. 


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (2/28)
25 0 0.0%
Total (8/4)
194,467 4,105 2.1%
Includes tests since August 4, 2020
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated February 28, 2021