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Advantages of Open Book Exam

The question looks familiar, you know which page it is from, but you can't remember the answer! This might have happened to you at least once! How great would it have been if you had access to your textbooks then? Times have changed and open book exams are a part and parcel of the education system now.  An open book exam refers to the type of exam which allows the examinees to carry study materials, such as notes, cheat sheets, or even textbooks, with themselves into the exam hall so that they can refer to these materials while writing their exam papers.

There are two types of open book exams:

  1. Restricted type: In this open book exam, the faculty permits students to carry along only pre-approved materials. For example, a faculty may allow the students to carry an A4-sized page consisting of handwritten formulae or shortcuts. However, they may not allow the students to carry textbooks or notebooks. In case-study-based exams, the faculty may provide the case study before the exam so that the students can save their time spent on reading it during the exam.
  2. Free type: In this open book exam, the faculty allows students to carry whichever material they want. In most cases, a student is allowed to carry textbooks or even notebooks. However, this does not permit students to carry cell phones since that can lead to cheating. Depending on the subject and the types of questions, there are OBEs where faculties may allow students to carry electronic devices. In such cases, invigilators monitor the students very strictly.

Typically, open book exams are conducted by faculties where the exam paper consists of application-based questions. For example, in a Marketing exam, the students may be required to create a Go-To-Market strategy for a company. Even when a student refers to a textbook or a notebook, they will not find a specific answer to these questions. It will be meaningless for the student to write their answer based on the theory they learned in class.

Following are the key advantages of conducting an open book exam:

1.Reduces exam related stress:

Most of the students get stressed due to exams because exams traditionally demand they memorize a lot of information. In such cases, the students tend to focus more on the retention of information rather than developing an understanding of the subject of their study. When you conduct an open book exam, it will take away the pressure of retaining information among the students, allowing them to focus on understanding the concepts better. It will help create a positive outlook among students towards the whole process of exams.

2.Enhances application-based learning:

On a general observation, it may be found that test scores do not necessarily reflect the understanding of a topic by someone. This is because most exams test the ability to memorize in the students, rather than checking their understanding. However, open book exams are designed such that the questions therein cannot be directly answered based on any text found in the reference materials. For example, in an open book exam, you cannot ask the students to write the formula used to calculate the area of a triangle. However, you can ask a question that requires them to use multiple geometrical concepts to arrive at the answer. Even in real life, a person will never require to answer the formula for calculating the area of a triangle. Instead, a civil engineer or an architect will need conceptual clarity about geometry to excel in their professions.

3.Encourages students to pay attention in class:

An open book exam will allow students to carry a sufficient number of materials to the exam hall. The students can certainly gather points from those reference materials while writing their answers. But this process can get very time-consuming. Therefore, a student who has been attentive in class and has been studying for a long time will have an edge over a student who did not pay attention to the subject in class. Simply borrowing notes from friends and toppers will not help the students to answer the questions in their exams. Thus, conducting an open book exam will encourage your students to pay more attention in class and even create their notes.

4.Gives a fair chance to everyone:

Even though students who study more will always have an advantage in any kind of exam, an open book exam gives a fair chance to everyone. For example, there might be some students who are more focused on pursuing extra-curricular activities, such as sports, dance, or music. Since such students can’t invest a lot of time in studying regularly, open-book exams can allow them to study for a limited time yet score a decent level of marks. Even students who are not good at memorizing things, but have a good understanding of the topic, can score well in such exams.

5.Encourage wider reading around a subject:

Most open book exams allow students to carry only a page or two to the exam hall. Also, these pages are required to be handwritten. They cannot be printouts or photocopies of someone else’s notes. Thus, to create these sheets, students need to find out the most relevant information and write it on the sheets in a concise format. This process itself is a way of encouraging them to read and study from a wide variety of resources.


In today’s world, information is readily available to everyone. One doesn’t need to have a degree in computer engineering to know how to repair a laptop; you can simply watch a few YouTube videos and learn how to do it. Also, an ongoing technological revolution promises to help us find information from a wide variety of sources and complete all kinds of our mundane tasks. The jobs of the future will need people to do things that machines cannot, such as critical thinking, creative application, and others.

Thus, it is more important to know where to find knowledge and how to apply it learning in the context of our daily lives. Open book exams are one of the most ideal ways of achieving this objective. Though they have their set of disadvantages, by using them wisely, you can truly reform our education system for the benefit of humanity.

Teachmint is keen on changing the future of education with its advanced LMS and ERP tools. With more than 20+ modules for educational institutions like admission management, attendance management system, performance management, and more; it is changing the teaching-learning experience.

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