Monday, October 05, 2020


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.


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