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Study Guides 101: How students pass finals

What are the keys to group project success? They're a little different for everyone.
What are the keys to group project success? They're a little different for everyone.

By Kevin Vestal, For The Miami Student

First-year Caley Wexler has a not-so-secret study strategy to prepare her for exams - and no, it does not involve prescription drugs.

Inspired by the success of her older sister, Wexler decided to make study guides to help improve her test scores for Business 101. Rather than limit her guides to personal studies, she posts them online for her classmates.

Creating study guides is not complicated. About a week or so before an exam, her professor provides a list of key terms for the class to know, and Wexler comes up with a definition for each one through a combination of her notes, her textbook and Google.

Jackson DeJure, another resident of Emerson Hall, similarly posts his own study guides for Biology 115 on Facebook for all to see. He invites classmates to correct any spelling or content mistakes they might find in his work.

"Come exam time, there's no way a vocabulary question could trip me up," DeJure said.

While everyone is able to utilize his final product, DeJure finds creating the study guide to be a useful study tactic in and of itself.

"I'm the only one that gets to use my study guides for active learning," he said. "I have to make it and think about the wording and definitions and all that, while most people just have to read through it and make sure they remember all the terms, at least vaguely."

Miami students have been posting study guides online for years now, especially for more content heavy subjects like history, science and foreign language. Websites like Quizlet and Studyblue allow users to post and share flashcard sets free of charge, while search tools help users filter content in order to find a specific university or professor.

In this way, generous students can leave behind their notes for future generations.

However, some students take a more entrepreneurial approach. These students are selling their detailed notes to peers, who could ace exams without having to sit through a single lecture.

Websites like are littered with offers for everything from geology to art history, with prices averaging $4 for a few page of notes, and around $12 for final exam study guides. In order to determine product quality, users rely on a brief preview and a seller rating system akin to websites like eBay and Amazon.

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This form of business however has brought several young entrepreneurs under fire.

"I would caution students not to go the entrepreneur route," said Brenda Quaye, Miami's coordinator for Academic Integrity.

She suggests that students first ask the permission of their instructor, as many view course material as personal property. Most instructors have no issue with students studying together, but this can become a slippery slope when money is involved.

In 2010, California State University cracked down on 23 students using in violation of the state education code, which bans the sale of class notes for commercial purposes.

Miami has a similar policy toward the sale of class notes, and has urged instructors to copyright their material. While each incident is reviewed on a case by case basis, both the buyer and seller can potentially be charged with academic misconduct based on severity and intent.

According to Quaye, Miami has never had a serious problem with students selling their notes to peers, but advertisement for these services will likely trigger investigation.

Although she is a business major, Wexler has no intention to make money off her study guides. For her, the recognition from her peers is enough.

"I would feel bad making people pay for something I can make so easily," she said. "I guess I'm just too nice."

DeJure also rejects monetary payment, preferring to be thanked for his free service through chocolate and high-fives.

"The class isn't curved, so helping others does me no disservice in terms of my own grade," DeJure said. "If, however, the class was curved per exam, I might not be so willing to share my study guides and notes from office hours with my classmates."

Despite positive feedback online declaring her "an angel," Wexler was less than pleased with her second exam grade. Ironically, classmates that used her guides reported significantly better results. While her major is fairly competitive, Wexler isn't bothered by this difference in the slightest.

"I want everybody to do well," she said. "Even in competition, teamwork is important."