Open Book Assessments

First of all, consider the learning outcomes for your course. Are there outcomes that students have not yet met that you need to assess? Make sure these are outcomes that you have already taught or be prepared to add learning activities and resources to prepare students for these assessments. Remember, now is not to time to increase learner anxiety or place more demands on them.

Consider substituting a different assessment for your final exam. For example, perhaps you can assess the same learning with:

  • a case study,
  • problem-solving questions,
  • portfolios, or
  • self-reflective activities.

Open Book Exams

If you want to maintain an exam approach, we encourage you to adopt an open book exam. Michelle Schwartz, Educational Developer at Ryerson University, has prepared a document on Open Book Exams that we recommend. As Schwartz states,

In the broadest sense, an open book exam allows students to consult some form of reference material in the course of completing the exam. Open book exams and closed book exams have different pedagogical ends. While a closed book exam “places a premium on accurate and extensive recall, and unless carefully designed, its assessment of students’ knowledge is likely to be dominated by that ability” (Gupta, 2007), an open book exam places the focus on higher level learning. Because open book exams don’t have the same emphasis on memorization, questions can move up Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, and ask students to analyze, evaluate, or synthesize knowledge, rather than just remember it.

Design your exams to take advantage of being open book:

  • Questions should be designed so students “do things with the information available to them, rather than merely locate and summarize or rewrite it.”
  • Allow enough time. It may take your students longer to complete an open book exam.
  • Make sure you are clear in your marking criteria.

A Guide for Open Book Exams: The University of Newcastle Australia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning has created A Guide for Academics – Open Book Exams which provides more specific advice and questions types that you may also find useful.

Further Resources

Chan C. (2009) Assessment: Open-book Examination, Assessment Resources@HKU, University of Hong Kong.
Farrell, M. and Maheu, S. (April 5, 2019). Why Open-book Tests Deserve a Place in Your Courses. Faculty Focus.
Schwartz, M. (n.d.). Open Book Exams. Ryerson University.