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Open Book Examinations

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Open Book Examinations

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What is your first reaction when the teacher announces that your next exam will be an open book test? Most students breathe a sigh of relief, because they think they're getting a break. But are they?

In fact, open book tests are not easy tests. Open book tests teach you how to find information when you need it. The questions are designed to teach you how to use your brain and not just see its memorizing capabilities like the closed book examination. And contrary to popular belief, you do not get off the hook when it comes to studying for an open book exam. You just need to study a little differently.

Writing and studying for an exam is a game played between Teacher and student. In this game the Teacher has to pick which questions to ask and the student has to pick which topics to study. The game has the flavor of rock-scissors-paper in which the Teacher would like to be unpredictable. That way the students will have to devote studying time to all topics and understanding each rather than focus on just one and memorize it.

But the Teacher might not want the students to spend too much time memorizing concepts from the book. Instead he may want them to spend their time thinking about how to apply those concepts to new problems. How can the Teacher be unpredictable and still deter the students from trying to memorize the book? The solution is to use an open book exam. This way the Teacher is committing not to ask rote questions which would turn the exam into nothing more than a contest to see which students are the fastest to search through the book and find the topic.

Most often, the questions on an open book test will ask you to explain, evaluate, or compare things from your text. For instance:

"Compare and contrast the different views of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as they pertained to the role and size of the government."

The answer to this question will not appear in a single paragraph in your text--or even on a single page. The...