Open-book exams allow students to take notes, texts or resource materials into an exam situation. They assess examinees’ ability to find and apply information and knowledge.
Open-book exams are authentic or real-life-like: at work people use various reference materials when they need to answer a question, analyze an issue, write a report, or solve problems. Why not teach students how to do it via the application of open-book exams? Today there is so much professional information, so that to memorize it all is both impossible and harmful (overloading the brain).
Open book examinations permit to avoid rote memorization of exceeding amount of information and to use reference materials instead. The memorization which does take place is meaningful. The emphasis is on understanding and not memorization.
Open-book tests have the potential to better measure students’ ability to organize and apply information when/where suitable rather than simply memorizing it while not being able to apply the right facts in the right place (as an argument in discussion, for instance).
While the ability to recall information is indeed an important cognitive goal and as such it has to be assessed - it is the lowest-level ability in Bloom’s (Krathwohl, 2002) hierarchy of educational objectives in the cognitive domain), higher level abilities – the abilities of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation – also have to be taught and assessed.
Open-book testing, thus, emphasizes higher order thinking skills. Feller (1994) believed that traditional (closed-book) examinations test only what students can memorize, while open-book examinations have an increased potential to measure higher level thinking skills and relate more closely to real-world work environments.
He believed the open book examination was one method for incorporating realistic, open-ended tasks into higher education. Let us both agree and disagree. But, probably, closed book demand too much: both memorization and analysis/creativity.
But do higher scores always mean better knowledge/skills or do they just mean that the test was easier?
However, we believe that this mostly concerns students with high internal motivation (accompanied by learning goals), who do want to learn, but are frightened of exams. The level of anxiety of students taking an open-book exam with high extrinsic motivation (accompanied by performance goals) who just want to pass the exam is expected to be even higher than at the traditional exam, where rote memorization and skillful cheating can help the student pass.
For students who have really studied for the exam the open-book exam is a sort of an insurance in case they forget some details, so for them this format definitely reduces test anxiety. For those students who at the exam see the textbook for the first time (or have superficially studied a couple of topics), finding the necessary information there is too difficult if possible at all. So this format is a nightmare for them, unless they are great at fast reading.
Time factor is even more pressing, as not just reading technique, but also deep comprehension has to be achieved during the exam, unless the text was deeply studied beforehand.
open-book exam trains the learners to manage their time, tighten their writing and present it in concise and accurate terms. In the process of exam preparation students with learning goals in mind not only have lower levels of anxiety, but also concentrate on comprehension, not memorization. They do their best to use effective emphasizing techniques (for example, marking in different colors names, dates, facts, definitions, etc.). The textbook becomes for them an effective guidebook which they can use not only for passing the exam, but also for their further professional experience.