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Open-Book Exams Are More Fair and Productive in the Long-Term

By Joseph D’Andrea

In many cases in the professional world, a reference sheet in one form or another will be at one’s disposal, so why shouldn’t that go for the classroom, too? Exams shouldn’t be about how many Quizlet flashcards you can remember but instead should test how well one is able to apply the facts they have in front of them into a coherent response.

For majors of every shape and size, a sort of encyclopedic knowledge of one’s specialty is expected in order to earn an above-average GPA. History majors, specifically, have to be able to make compelling arguments using background information spanning over centuries.

Students should be challenged, though; a cheat sheet isn’t ideal to test yourself as a student looking to master their craft. However, by allowing students to prepare by having a list of key dates and facts beside them in a classroom during a test, an even truer test of how much they understand the material can be seen in this way.

Practically every student can give you an example of a time when they were racking their head on the first multiple choice question, trying to figure out things like whether a certain war lasted five or six years. This ultimately distracts them in the long run and could lead to a poor grade, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a “bad student.”

With open-book exams, it allows students to have a clear mindset and gives them the opportunity to use their full potential. Opponents to this testing method might say that this takes away from the purpose of exams but the issue needs to be looked at through the eyes of a student.

“I think that open-book exams are fairer because it’s less of a stressor on the student,” said Beth Ceriello, a senior history major in STEP. “Also, coming off of Covid, many students got accustomed to online tests and more lenient testing so as of now open book exams can be more beneficial especially when transitioning the classrooms fully back to previous Covid ideology.”

Ask enough college students, and you’ll quickly find out that much of the stress they endure comes from long periods of studying. They worry that they’ll mix up a date by a year or two, which during a test is a dilemma that won’t ever leave their mind until they look it up after handing the test in.

According to a poll by The Delphian, 80% of students, or 24 of the 30 total participants, said that they think open-book exams make for a more fair test-taking experience. As for whether studying stresses students out, an even higher percentage, 92%, said yes, out of the 26 total student voters.

“I have a learning disability so I have a different perspective on learning,” said freshman Kristen Solimene, an undecided business major in the Bridges to Adelphi Program. “I always learned in small classes and the pace was slower. For me, I never know how to start, especially when the teacher would review for big tests. I feel like studying can stress people out because the amount of time they have to sleep is important as well. For me, I need my sleep and can’t function when I am tired. And feeling like you have to study for hours to be able to do well is kind of hard for some people. I know it is for me.”

Speaking on applying the studied material to a sit-down exam, Solimene continued, saying that preparing and then doing poorly on a test “is very confusing and hard to understand because you studied. You shouldn’t have to feel bad about not studying hard enough, but that’s just me.” A 2018 study in the Journal of Effective Teaching in Higher Education, “Testing Effect: A Further Examination of Open-book and Closed-book Test Formats,” published by Central Michigan University, explains that “open-book tests may not be inferior to closed-book tests in promoting long-term retention of information.”

“[A] goal of education is to build knowledge, and based on the literature…” it reads. “Participants studied Swahili-English pairs and either re-studied or took an initial quiz, which was cued recall or recognition in an open-book or closed-book format. One week later, the final closed-book recognition test showed higher performance in the quizzed conditions than in the study-twice condition, replicating the testing effect… [P]erformance was similar across the quizzed conditions…”

All this is not to say that students should be able to have Google available to them when taking an exam. Rather, what would ultimately be the most beneficial is providing students the ability to reference facts so that they can properly analyze the content and make connections.

“Open-book tests are not inferior to closed-book tests in building knowledge,” the study goes on to say, “and can be particularly useful in online classes because preventing cheating is difficult when closed-book tests are administered online.”


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