Should All Tests Be Open-Book?

Articles reflect the views of the author and/or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the views of CCBC or The CCBC Connection.

Gina Owenby

With finals ending this week the spring 2024 semester is coming to a close. You’ve been working hard in your class and now it’s time to assess what you’ve learned. It’s test time. Have you studied hard? Do you feel prepared? Is the mere thought of taking a test causing you anxiety? Would having an open-book test help to lessen your anxiety a little?

The great debate between open-book and closed-book tests has been around for years. With the increase in remote education, it seems as though open-book tests have become a bit more of the norm. In researching the benefits and preferences among both styles, the data and support seems to overwhelmingly favor the open-book format.

Closed-book tests are more traditional; however, educational practices need to be flexible and able to adapt to the ever-changing times. Those who prefer the closed-book method feel as though students may not put in adequate study time, or may take too long trying to find the answers in an open-book test. Although valid, the benefits of the open-book style seem to far outweigh those concerns.

“Open-book tests reduce exam anxiety, giving students a safety net to fall back on if they feel overwhelmed,” according to Crowdmark. “Many students suffer from testing anxiety but feel secure when they know there are resources available. This form of examination helps students feel supported when taking a test or exam and may reduce stress in the learning experience.”

While the open-book style may ease your anxiousness when it comes to test taking, the test itself is no less stressful, and it is in no way easier than traditional closed-book exams, as the questions tend to be tricky. The Journal of Effective Teaching in Higher Education stated that the test format “may not matter as long as the test questions are sufficiently difficult to promote elaborative or deep-levels of processing.”

In fact, some have said that the open-book style tends to be even more difficult. “Open-book exams are not easier than closed-book exams – oftentimes they are harder. … Remember, open-book does not mean that you don’t need to prepare or study. This is even more important if your open-book exam is timed,” stated in an article by Cornell University. “Because open-book exams require you to use ‘higher levels of thinking,’ you won’t just be asked about facts or to recall. Instead, you will be asked to compare, analyze, evaluate, or synthesize information. These ways of demonstrating your knowledge are more challenging than just spitting back facts and require that you deeply know the material and are able to see connections.”

“Open-book exams reward students for taking good notes, allow students to learn during the exam, and let students develop real-life skills like collaboration and internet research,” stated The Danforth Dispatch. “Open-book exams are better at preparing students for the workplace and set us up for real-life success.”

Another argument for open-book tests is that they push the student to engage in skills other than just memorization. “Properly constructed, open-book tests can promote the development of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills over the rote memorization of factual information,” said The Washington Post. “Most important, open-book exams more closely replicate the kinds of tasks students will need to carry out after they graduate. In our lives outside of school, it’s rare that we’re asked to answer questions or solve problems using only the knowledge in our heads.”

“Additionally, open-book exams teach students how to recall and relay information quickly, which is a beneficial life skill,” stated Crowdmark.

Regardless of which style you prefer, it’s safe to say that both formats will probably always be around. Fortunately, when it comes to learning, neither plays a more important role in retention, however, there are so many more benefits to using the open-book format. Oregon State University said “bottom line, the test format produces little differences in learning outcomes and properly constructed untimed/open-book tests provide many advantages from higher order learning, equity, cost savings (e.g., scantrons, proctoring), and reductions in anxiety.”

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