Memory Aids

What is a memory aid?

A memory aid is rare accommodation designed to allow students with certain disabilities to retrieve information they have already learned, but which they may have difficulty accessing.

A memory aid does not have specific course material on it, but rather cues or triggers such as rhymes, acrostics, or diagrams. Without a solid understanding of course material gained through previous study, a memory aid will be of little use to a student. In addition, the cues or triggers will be so separate from course material that the memory aid would not help anyone but the student who created it.

Some students may have a formula sheet as an accommodation; more information about formula sheets follows below.

Who gets a memory aid?

Some students have a documented medical condition or learning disability that results in a significant memory deficit. These students generally have great difficulty retrieving information from memory even though they have carefully studied and understood the material.

A memory aid is intended to provide students with such memory-related disabilities an equal opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of course material.

SAS will only recommend a memory aid if

  • a recognized healthcare professional with expertise in this area has provided evidence of the impact on the relevant functional abilities of the student
  • this documentation describes what memory assessment was performed
  • this documentation provides evidence that other strategies to improve memory would not be sufficient.

Given the complexity of these issues and the potential impact on academic learning outcomes, SAS often does a third-party review of the relevant disability-related documentation before supporting a memory aid as an accommodation.

Human Rights and Fairness

The goal of any accommodation is to achieve equity. Accommodations try to remove the barriers the disability creates without compromising essential learning outcomes. Issues of fairness should be viewed through the lens of maintaining academic standards regardless of how they are reached.

The term "essential requirement" has a specific meaning with respect to human rights:

  • "that which cannot be adapted without compromising the basic objective of the task.

In other words, an essential element is one that cannot be done in another way without significantly altering what is intrinsic to the task or activity. 

Academic Integrity and Essential Course Requirements 

When information is deemed to be an essential learning objective or outcome of a course, it is not be allowed on a memory aid.  For example, if the learning objective or outcome of the course is to know and be able to reproduce a formula, then that formulas should not be allowed; however, if the learning objective or outcome of the course is to demonstrate the ability to apply a formula, then it could be allowed on the memory aid. 

While an SAS Advisor may recommend the use of a memory aid, it is the professor or department chair who determines whether the memory aid accommodation jeopardizes the integrity of an exam. If a professor concludes that demonstrating the ability to memorize is a fundamental course objective, and that the exam is the instrument used to measure this objective, they may disallow the accommodation.

 

Memory Aid Specifics

A memory aid:

  • Is a single-sided 8 ½” x 11” page
  • May be handwritten/drawn or typed (12 point font)
  • Is clearly legible
  • May contain mind maps, images, rhymes, acronyms, etc.
  • Makes sense only to the student who created it

 

A memory aid does not:

  • Cover all of the information from a course.
  • Include complete terms or definitions, written examples, or other essential course knowledge
  • Provide answers

 

A formula sheet:

  • is a single-sided 8 ½” x 11” page
  • has only formulas in notation form (no explanations or examples)
  • contains only those formulas the student cannot retrieve
  • may be handwritten or typed (12 point font)
  • is clearly legible

 

A formula sheet does not:

  • cover all possible formulas
  • include instructions, steps, or specific examples
  • provide essential information, for example, theoretical information about the relationships among concepts (such as in a purely definitional formula)
  • include conversions

 

Process of creating and approving a memory aid

SAS Advisors

  1. After a thorough review of a student’s disability-related documentation, the advisor determines if SAS can support this accommodation. The advisor will only approve a memory aid if no other type of accommodation would meet the same need.

  2. The SAS advisor or writing consultant teaches the student how to construct a memory aid.

  3. The advisor contacts the professor to verify the need for the accommodation and to discuss any concerns. The advisor may

  • seek clarification regarding essential course requirements

  • help problem-solve specific challenges

  • provide sample memory aids

  • explain to the professor how to submit the memory aid to the exam centre

Students

  1. Students must be registered with SAS in the current semester.

  2. Students must request a memory aid accommodation from their SAS advisor. Even if students have been approved in previous semesters for a memory aid accommodation, they must contact their SAS advisor each semester to determine in which courses they can use a memory aid. The advisor will not assume a student is using a memory aid in all of their courses.

  3. Students must confirm what, if any, authorized aids are allowed for the entire class for tests and exams in each relevant course. 

  1. Before creating a memory aid for the first time, students must attend a meeting with their SAS advisor or writing consultant to learn how to create an appropriate memory aid. Students should also ask for guidance from their professor.

  2. Students create a draft memory aid and submit it to the professor for review. This must be completed by the agreed upon date, which is usually 7 working days prior to the exam.

  3. Students are responsible for making changes as requested by the professor and re-submitting the final copy to the professor at least 5 working days before the exam. It is not the responsibility of the professor to correct content errors on students’ memory aids.

  4. Students must follow these steps for every test and exam in the course.

If the memory aid is not submitted to the professor for approval within the agreed upon time frame, it is likely the student will not be allowed to use the memory aid for that exam. 

Instructors

If a student asks a professor to approve a memory aid for an exam, we recommend that the professor verify with the SAS advisor that the student has a memory aid accommodation. The professor should use the essential requirements and learning outcomes for the course as criteria for approving the memory aid. The professor should also review the guidelines in this document (“Memory Aid Specifics”).

The instructor may:

  • approve the memory aid or formula sheet as is;
  • ask the student to edit the memory aid or formula sheet to remove any parts that have been deemed inappropriate, and have the student resubmit for approval; or
  • disallow the memory aid or formula sheet entirely because the memory triggers on the sheet are deemed to be essential criteria or learning objectives as outlined in the course syllabus.  

The professor should always notify both the student and the advisor of any edits that are required, and where time permits, allow the student to submit an alternative memory aid sheet for consideration. It is not the responsibility of the professor to correct content errors on students’ memory aid.

For more information and examples, see How to create a memory aid.