Open-book exams are tests where you are permitted to look at some materials during the exam. For example, it might be possible to bring some notes or books to consult. These types of exams have become a lot more common in recent years, as teachers have been forced to rely on remote testing with online classes, but this is not the only reason why it is important to know about them.
At university, for example, there are some tests where a lot of information has to be gathered in a short time. The fact that you're allowed to look at some materials doesn't mean that the test will be easy! On the contrary, while normal exams focus on memorisation and recall, open-book exams focus on a different aspect or skillset. In these exams, students usually have to evaluate, analyse or summarise information rather than simply remember it. The strategies described below will help to improve performance in open-book examinations.
Preparation is essential for open-book examinations
In open-book exams, the emphasis is on preparation, because you are not simply asked to recall facts. Instead, you have to show that you understand the subject matter and know how to apply it, either by linking or comparing it with other subjects, or by explaining your opinion on it.
The right way to prepare for an open-book exam is to write a detailed but clear summary about the topic. To do this, it is important to study the material in detail. Open-book does not mean that you should not study anything, in fact the opposite is true. You will have to understand the most important topics, connect them and be able to reproduce them in a short amount of time!
Writing a summary for an open-book exam
In an open-book exam, there is no time to reread detailed texts. It is therefore important to present all the most important information clearly and simply so that it can be quickly found and remembered.
Summarising sometimes means leaving something out. It will do no good to compress all the information into as little space as possible! Moreover, these small details will not be required in an open-book examination. It is important to understand connections and link concepts, and there are various methods of simplifying this process:
- Mind maps: A mind map helps to understand the connections and see the bigger picture.
- Lists: Lists can be useful for quickly displaying information.
- Some find it useful to make drawings or work with colour codes and symbols.
In any case, be sure not to simply copy anything, but write the summary in your own words. That way, you will know immediately whether you have understood all the topics.
Understanding the topic and its context
During the exam, you will have some materials to refer to, but the examination is likely to be structured in such a way that you will not have time to look up every little thing. So, as with any other exam, it is necessary to prepare well!
Waiting for the exam to study the material and understand the topics is therefore not a good way to pass this type of test. A useful method is to imagine what the test will be like and what type of questions might be asked. You can then answer these questions yourself or talk about them with someone to study together.
Time management during the open-book examination
The greatest difficulty in open-book exams is time. In order to avoid you looking for every solution in the material you have to hand, the exam is designed in such a way that you have little time and can only answer questions if you have studied hard.
It is very important to have an overview of the questions posed and the marks pertaining to each of them at the beginning of the exam. In this way you can assess how much time to invest in which questions. Sometimes, less is more! Try to answer questions concisely, be short and direct. This way you will have more time to complete the entire exam.
Finally, try to carve out some time at the end to reread and correct yourself.
Open-book exams require a lot of preparation and are not necessarily easier than classic exams or multiple-choice tests! It is therefore extremely important to write a good summary that can be consulted during the examination, if it's allowed. This summary should be clear and contain the most important points, but not be overloaded with information. Mind maps or lists can also be useful, depending on the case.
Study the key concepts and try to make connections to answer the linking questions quickly. You know you have understood a topic when you can reproduce it in your own words. Remember to keep an eye on time, in this type of exam you often have to work very fast. Good luck with your next open-book exam!