How to take an Open Book Exam

examTaking and Passing an Open Book Exam

Instead of spending their weekend chained to the desk of some library or coffee shop, most students usually see open book tests as the get out of jail free card that allows them to still enjoy their Saturday night. Just because the information is provided at the time of the test, however, does not mean that it’s going to be a breeze. In fact, because you have the book with you, open book tests can actually be more difficult than traditional exams. Instead of merely memorizing facts, they usually require you to apply concepts and explain ideas. Furthermore, they require just as much studying as any other essay or exam.

While open book tests are not inherently easier simply because you have access to the material, with proper work ahead of time, they certainly can be. The key to succeeding at open book tests is lies in the test preparation.

Before the Test

Thoroughly read all of the material. Make notes in the margins and highlight key terms.

Become familiar with the layout of the book. Learn where important ideas and concepts are located so you do not have to waste time searching for them at the time of the test.

Review any other relevant materials such as class notes.

If it’s allowed, write down any formulas and/or other notes on a separate sheet of paper.  See our Ultimate Guide to Test Preparation

During the Test

Begin by carefully reading the instructions.

Answer any questions that you automatically know. Once you have done that, go back to the questions that you are unsure of and consult your book and/or notes.

When answering questions it is acceptable to quote the book, but be sure not to plagiarize by copying long sentences or paragraphs. Put the author’s thoughts into your own words.

Once finished, go back and check your work before handing it in. Proofread your answers and correct any grammatical or spelling errors.

One last thing. Don’t allow the test to intimidate or overwhelm you. The irony is that sometimes a person can feel overwhelmed due to the vastness of the material available to them to refer to for the test. As with any test, try to relax before starting.

Above all else, remember that an open book test is still a test! As long as you approach it with the same level of seriousness that you would with any other exam, you should pass with flying colors.

See Discussion on What is an Open Book Exam in the Digital Age?


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Modified: September 25th, 2017
Published: October 30th, 2009

2 thoughts on “How to take an Open Book Exam”

  1. I do agree that you can’t spend the weekend right before a test cramming in the last minute studying because you have a better chance of forgetting the information that you studied. I have had a few open book test in my life and sometimes its easier and sometimes its not, but I have never thought of it as a get out of jail free card because sometimes they can reword sentences from the book to try and confuse you. I have definitely had to be able to apply different concepts while using the open book exam approach in order to fully understand the material in which I was testing. The advice of studying and reading the material along with making notes was one of the best ideas I have heard. It helped me understand what was being taught and it made more sense while taking the open book exam. When I took an open book test most of my answers to my questions came directly from the book as quotes which helped me definitely get a higher grade on the exam. I have also learned in the past that getting to excited before a test can hurt you because you try to rush things and end up messing up a lot of the answers I was giving.

  2. You mention open book tests being difficult, and that’s true. Also hard for me at the college level, believe it or not, were true or false exams, since my college professors had so many elements, all of which had to be true, to be marked true. If even one of the 6 or 7 elements was false you had to know to mark it false.

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