By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Open-book exams have a complicated reputation, as there are pros and cons to this type of test:
- Pro: You have to memorize less information.
- Con: Open-book exams offer a false sense of security, fooling you into thinking the answers will just be right in front of you.
Below is a list of 8 tips for open-book exams. With the right approach and preparation, open-book tests can be a good thing – but that will heavily depend on how solid your notes are.
One of the best tips for open-book exams is to build a cheat sheet throughout the learning process, well before the actual test. Here are the exact steps for how to do that. With that said, use the following open-book exam strategies whether or not you’ve created a sheet cheat.
Tips for open-book exams
1. Don’t totally rely on your notes.
You still have to study for open-book exams. Of course, you won’t have to memorize much information (you can use your notes for that), but you still need to understand concepts, main ideas, and how information fits together.
2. Know what’s going to be on the open-book exam.
Find out exactly what’s going to be on the exam. If you don’t know, ask or figure it out.
3. Gather the right materials, and cut the rest.
Once you know what’s going to be on the test, gather all the relevant materials. This includes class notes, previous quizzes, textbooks, worksheets, etc. Exclude any duplicate materials (you don’t need 27 examples of the same math problem) and materials beyond the exam scope. Finding the right information when you need it on the exam will be complicated if you have too many materials.
4. Group your materials by topic.
Group all of your loose materials by topic. If you have any digital materials, consider printing them and bundling them together with other materials of the same topic. Also print out graphics, charts or diagrams for reference. Put all of these notes together like a booklet; you could even make a table of contents.
5. Perfect your notes and use clear headings.
Before an open-book exam, it’s a good idea to rewrite or retype your notes. During this process, clarify and expand important concepts. Group similar information under clearly marked headings. Use bullet points and pull-out features (highlights, boxes, underlines, colors) to make important ideas pop. Don’t skip this critical step: revising your notes like this is studying. Here are 7 additional strategies for organizing your notes.
6. Bookmark important pages in textbooks.
Mark important pages in your textbook to save time during your open-book test. Use simple page flags or sticky notes to mark the first page of each chapter and pages that have key graphs, diagrams, charts, etc. Label the sticky notes so you can see each topic at a glance.
7. Make a vocabulary reference sheet.
One of the best tips for open-book exams is to consolidate all of your vocabulary terms and definitions on one page. Essentially, create a personal dictionary reference sheet for quick access during your test.
8. Put all formulas and equations on a reference sheet.
If your open-book exam is for math or science, you’ll likely need key formulas and equations to answer test questions. Put these formulas front and center on their own piece of paper. If you’ve made a cheat sheet throughout the learning process, you will already have this prepared.
Final notes on open-book exams
All of the above tips for open book exams boil down to one important idea: proper preparation and organization are the keys to cracking this type of test. You can do it – you just have to plan to.
Additionally, if you regularly experience test anxiety, it’s not uncommon for those nerves to pop up even for open-book tests. If your anxiety strikes, use these strategies during the test or these ones the night before.