What is open-book exam? Ddefinition, Importance, Benefits of open-book examination and its challenges

The main reason for open-book examination is that teachers can devise questions that require students to answer in more analytical and critical ways thus encouraging high-order thinking skills in students as compared.

Though not as popular as the closed-book test, open-book (or open-note) tests are slowly rising in popularity. Open-book exam is one of the main types of exams that an examinee may have to complete. Then what is an open-book exam?

What Is ‘Open-book Exam’?

Open-book examination is a form of examination in which students are allowed to refer to either class notes, memory aid, textbooks, or other approved material while answering questions. An open-book test allows the test taker to access textbooks and all of their notes while taking the test. Open-book examinations can be held on campus (as paper-based or computer-based exams) or online (take from home).

Why Is the Open-Book Examination Important? 

The open book examination is introduced to remove rote learning and more superficial application of knowledge. The main reason for open-book examination is that teachers can devise questions that require students to answer in more analytical and critical ways thus encouraging high-order thinking skills in students as compared.

Benefits in Open Book Examination

Open-book examination is slightly unusual as it does not require an examinee to revise the syllabus in the same way as a more traditional exam.

The main benefit in an open-book exam is seen from open-book exams is that they are a better preparation for the real world where you do not have to memorize and have anything you need at your disposal.

The open-book examination has the ability to help the student in  focusing  on  applying  the  available  knowledge rather than memorizing the concepts to apply.

Is Open-book examination or assessment easy? 

It may be a big misconception in the students mind that most of them believe an open-book exam is easy to crack, but the reality is totally different; all the questions asked are real-life based in the form of case studies. It is really difficult to answer real life based and creative questions if students’ concepts are not clear about the topic.

If a student was used to exams that test memorisation might think that open book assessments are easy or encourage cheating, but they do not be deceived. Open-book examinations are designed to assess students even when they have access to reference materials and the internet. 

Open book assessment focuses on higher level learning skills and tests students’ understanding of a subject matter or its application to a real-world problem, rather than recalling knowledge. 

Drawing upon a range of intellectual skills to test students’ understanding of the ‘big picture’ of their modules and how the concepts they have learnt work together is another point of focusing on the open-book examination systems. 

An open-book examination typically requires students’ to formulate, compare or contrast, analyse, synthesise, apply or evaluate information, rather than simply remember it. Students might be given a problem or scenario and asked to apply concepts from different parts of the module to develop their answer.

As the students have access to their resources to write answers in the examination, much more details and contents than they would in a closed book exam are expected by the examiners. To make the answers accurate, informative, detailed, and well structured is not so easy.

So it can be said that open-book exams are not easier than closed book exams—  oftentimes this format of assessment is harder.

Challenges in Open Book Examination

Challenges for Students or Examinees

Open-book exams are not easier but harder than closed-book exams. The questions asked on open-book exams are typically more thought provoking and intellectual than questions on a closed-book exam. It should be mentioned that rather than testing what facts students know, open-book exams force them to apply the facts to broader questions.

An open-book exam requires a student to really understand the lesson material and be able to apply or analyze information and content rather than just remember it. This does not mean the students should not study harder; this means they definitely need to study harder and get organized; actually, they only do not need to memorise.

Students or examinees need to understand the format and logistics of the exam in general— they need to know if the exam is multiple choice question (MCQ), problem-solving, or essay based. Examinees need to know how much time they have to complete answers, it may be difficult to fight with time in an open book exam hall. Maybe an open book exam is taken at home, but examinees have to fight to meet the deadline.

Bringing the right notes or resources in the examination hall is one of the big challenges for examinees as they are not pointed out about the questions, and the questions are more critical than close-book format exams. Open book exams tend to ask students to reference and apply information and their knowledge in different ways.

The  success  of an open-book examination depends on the students’ ability to understand the question, identify inherent  issues, application of  various techniques, principles, etc. while answering questions  with the help of supporting reference material carried by the student to the examination  hall.

As the examinees have access to their books, notes, digital devices or other approved resources in their hands to answer the questions, the examiners obviously expect much more details and contents than they would in a closed book exam; this is the biggest challenge for a examinee to make the answer accurate, informative, detailed, and well structured.

Challenges for Teachers

Open-book exams are not only challenging for students but also for teachers. So many challenges will have to be faced if they go for open-book exams.

Teachers must need effective training before they are going to conduct an open-book assessment process. Without proper training, it is not possible to evaluate the open-book exams for a teacher.

Teachers have to give proper, meaningful and effective guidelines to the students. If students are not guided well to give open-book exams, they may just copy what is in the resources or notes or textbooks that may make no sense.

How Can Students Make Better Results in Open-Book Examinations?

The open-book examination cannot be take lightly, but it is heavier than traditional memorisation based or closed-book examination. But if students follow some specific rules, they will succeed. Basic rules are mentioned below that a student must follow—

Planned study is important

The open-book examination is not easy. Open-book examinations require a student to really understand the lesson material and be able to apply or analyze information and content rather than just remember it. So students should study in the best possible way. They should develop and implement an effective study plan.

The most important thing for a student is— ‘DO NOT TRY NOT TO STUDY’.

Preparation is the key to success

An open-book does not mean that a student does not need to study; only a student does not need to memorise. The open-book examination requires examinees to use higher levels of their thinking. Students will be asked to compare, analyze, evaluate, or synthesize information in an open-book examination. These ways of demonstrating your knowledge are more challenging than just spitting back facts and require that students deeply know the material and are able to see connections. So they should prepare themselves with better preparation than they took previously for traditional and memorisation based examinations.

Organising reference materials puts students ahead

Students should be selective in what they have available, and whatever they decide to use or bring as reference materials needs to be organized. They should only take what they need into an open-book exam. Students should not be panicked but carefully select their reference materials and resources and organise them for quick reference.

For a take-home exam, students should gather notes, textbooks, and other resources together beforehand and organise them neatly in their study area.

Identifying main themes and topics, summarising important information, organising notes by topic, identifying how topics are connected, etc. are very important before the exam starts.

Preparing their materials – create indices of key topics and identify where you can find more information on each of them, bookmark important pages/chapters, prepare a list of key information e.g. formulas, definitions, etc., etc.

They should not forget about pen, pencil, eraser, ruler, and calculator.

Looking over questions before answering can make the examination easier

Examinees should look over all the questions on the test first before they begin answering. Once they have gotten a sense of all the questions, start by answering those they are familiar with and then then move on to more difficult questions that require them to use reference materials.

Students should not be tempted, it kills time

Sometimes with open-book exams students might be tempted to keep adding information or to keep going back to check answers again and again. It is important not to over-answer questions. Students should be thorough and accurate, and concise. They should not over-quote either— their own analysis is critical.

Managing time effectively during the exam

One of the most frustrating things about doing exams is running out of time. So managing time in an effective way cannot be ignored during examinations.

Time management is very important in open book exams. Where the closed-book exam examinees have to struggle with the time, there is definitely a need to practice separately with the time in the open-book exam.

The answers to the questions should not be unnecessarily broadened but accurate, concise and well referenced.  The answer should be written specifically to the point. Looking over the question before writing starts can help an examinee in time management.

If examinees can finish their writing before the time ends, they should spend extra time reviewing and proofreading their work for grammatical or spelling errors.

Students should not plagiarize

When a student writes answers to questions, they should not copy information directly from the book and pass it off as their own work or answer on an open book test. Teachers are concerned with what their students have learned, not whether they can locate information in a book. It is permissible to use quotes from the book, or lecture notes, to support your positions or analysis, but do not rely too heavily on them. Copying word-for-word has to be ignored by students if they want to make better results.


It is definitely expected that the open-book exams can bring a revolutionary change in the world wide education system. Properly constructed, open-book examinations can promote the development of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills over the rote memorization of factual information.


  1. Prasad, K. M.; Aluvalu, R. (2017). Benefits and challenges of Open Book Examination as Assessment Model for Engineering Courses. Journal of Engineering Education Transformations. 30 (3). DOI: 10.16920/jeet/2017/v0i0/111682
  2. Strauss, V. (2020). An argument for giving kids open-book tests during the pandemic (and after). The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/11/30/an-argument-giving-kids-open-book-tests-during-pandemic-after/
  3. The Learning Strategies Center. Open-Book Exams. Cornell University. https://lsc.cornell.edu/how-to-study/studying-for-and-taking-exams/open-book-exams/
  4. The Times of India. (2021). Open book examination: What does it mean?. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/open-book-examination-what-does-it-mean/articleshow/76112795.cms
  5. The University of Auckland. Open Book Exams. https://uoa.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/3040/
  6. The University of New South Wales. Preparing for Open-Book Exams. https://www.student.unsw.edu.au/preparing-open-book-exams
  7. University College of London. Preparing for open book assessments. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/students/exams-and-assessments/assessment-success-guide/preparing-open-book-assessments

Contact me if you have any question about the open-book examination.

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