One of the best things to hear in class is that there will be an open-book exam. This, of course, is a big relief to many because exams are typically the most intimidating aspect of any course. As great as open-book exams are, however, there is still a concern shared by some about the impact it may have on the studying habits of students. Is it beneficial? Is it helping students in the long run? I would say that, for the most, yes, it is.
One of the benefits of having an open-book exam is that you are being forced to study even more throughout it. With each question, you are briefly testing what you know and correcting yourself if necessary. For students that might not be doing this for other exams, this can make quite a difference in how much they get out of the course. Psychologist, Adam L. Putnam, and others pointed this out in a journal a couple of years ago stating, “Even when occurring after some delay, rereading is still less effective than other strategies such as self-testing or asking questions to yourself while you read.” Students who do not study in this manner will end up studying to some extent during the exam anyway. Students who have already adopted this method will get to use it even more. It is truly beneficial to everyone.
Another benefit of taking an open-book exam is that it places more importance on the process than the outcome. That is, it ensures that the majority of one’s focus is on the material being learned as opposed to the potential grade being received. Students will be less likely to take shortcuts to get a favorable outcome (the grade) and more likely to be immersed in the process of learning. Ultimately, the reason open-book exams are beneficial is much more fundamental than what they are in themselves. It is the type of learning that they promote. This type of learning makes a course more enjoyable, and in doing so, also allows for more to be taken from it.
It may not come as a surprise that I have had a positive experience with this type of learning. This past summer, I took two chemistry courses – something I would not have thought to be enjoyable just some months prior. As I went through the courses, I noticed that my professors took a different approach in teaching than I was used to. They did not simply give out answers, but they also did not limit the amount of help they would give. During the time of exams, they did their best to help us truly understand what was going on in them. If we had trouble, they would help us in a way that forced us to think through every step. I was not as intimidated by exams and was more confident in my ability to solve problems. I came to really enjoy chemistry – so much so that I was a little disappointed to be finished with it all at the end of the summer. Although this may not hold true for everyone engaged with this type of learning, it is certainly important to consider.
With all of this being said, I can conclude that open-book exams are the best kind of exams. Contrary to what some may argue, they seem to be more beneficial to one’s studying habits than detrimental. They improve one’s learning experience and should be used more often than they currently are. Teachers and students should, by all means, keep an open mind to these exams and embrace them in the time to come.