Open Book Tests

Most students are thrilled when the teacher or professor announces that an upcoming exam will be open book, meaning students will be able to use the textbook and/or their notes when answering questions on the test. They assume that because they will be able to look up all the answers in the textbook, they will not need a study guide or to study very much or at all. Unfortunately, many of these same students do not do very well on the exam. This is because they underestimate how much they need to prepare and study for the test.

One of the biggest problems students run into when taking open book exams is running out of time. Professors often design open book exams to require that the students thoroughly understand the information and can apply it to different situations. Because students are required to do more than just memorize and recall facts, the answer cannot always be found in the book. Professors may also ask students more questions on an open-book exam than on a regular test. Students who are not familiar with the layout of the textbook or who cannot answer at least some of the questions without looking for them are bound to not finish the exam on time.

Preparing for an open book exam begins by keeping up with assigned readings and homework. If you have not read the material, even if the exam is open book, chances xare you will not do well. It is also helpful to prepare a summary of your notes as you are studying, especially if your professor is allowing you to use your textbook and your notes for the exam. As you are studying the readings and your notes, include your own commentary and arguments that you may be able to use on short answer questions and essay questions. This will help you prepare to be able to apply the information instead of just recalling it. Also, make up test questions and practice answering them.

Organize the materials that you will be able to use on the exam. Make sure that you are familiar with which chapters will be tested on the exam and their location in the book. If you will be tested on any specific charts, graphs, or special sections mark them or memorize the page numbers so that you do not waste time looking for them. If the professor allows it, come up with a system of color-coded tabs to help you find information quickly.

When you are taking the exam, begin by looking over the entire test. Give yourself a time outline as to how long you will spend on each section. If you run out of time for a section, move onto the next section. Leave time at the end to come back to questions you did not answer. When answering essay questions, refrain from quoting directly from the textbook too much. The professor is testing you on your understanding of the material, not on how well you can copy it. And just because you have access to all the information in the book, this does not mean you have to use it. Keep your answers concise and brief, unless the question asks for more. Again, this will allow you to finish within the time limits and do your absolute best.


Last Updated: June 4, 2019