Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Center for Teaching Excellence, Civil and Mechanical Engineering

Publication Date


Publication Title

2020 Fall ASEE Mid-Atlantic Section Meeting

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


This paper studies the efficacy of course-provided reference sheets on student learning when allowing reference material on exams versus other methods. Moving from student-provided note sheets to course-provided note sheets reduced the course exam failure rate from 11.8% to 0%. In previous iterations of ME388 Helicopter Aeronautics exam resources varied from student-provided note sheets to open-book exams with several iterations taking some combination of the two. Another course in the department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the United States Military Academy, MC311 Thermal-Fluid Systems I, inspired this research with its long-standing success with a course-provided 8½ x 11” front-and-back equation reference card used for over 20 iterations with positive results, affectionately named and referred to as the RDC for Reference Data Card, although it contains almost entirely equations, not data. Thus, the ME388 course instructors piloted a two-page course-provided equation sheet to students taking ME388 Helicopter Aeronautics at the beginning of the spring semester in the 2020 Academic Year with the goal of simplifying the teaching model and attempting to help students avoid common mistakes made during previous iterations of the course that used various formats of closed- and open-book exams. This paper will introduce the concept of closed- and open-reference teaching and assessment methods including a canvas of academic literature on related research. Motivation for the inclusion of the course-provided equation reference sheet determined from course feedback collected from previous iterations is analyzed and discussed. Current students are surveyed to gain insight into the students’ comfort with the material and gain anecdotal results on the method. Next, the aspects of designing and implementing the reference material are discussed with thoughts on layout, which equations to include, which data to include, and how to incorporate the reference material into daily instruction. Student feedback is analyzed with discussion on any adjustments made thereafter along with applicable justification from student feedback. Finally, a conclusive evaluation is determined from a synthesis of anecdotal evidence, Likert scale feedback, and exam grade comparison to previous iterations. This is weighed against the literature from other academic research and a discussion of the merits and disadvantages of allowing reference material on exams. The paper concludes with a final determination on the pilot program’s efficacy on student learning when implementing a course-provided equation reference sheet and recommendations for future work.

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