Welcome to the sixtieth issue of The LTO Best Practices. Each month, the Learning & Teaching Office will be spotlighting a timely topic in education and professional development in teaching. This November, our topic is "Open Book Exams."
For more information on different assessment methods, visit our page of resources on Creating Effective Assessments.
The information in this issue is excerpted from our Teaching Tips document on Open Book Exams [pdf].Check out our page of Teaching Tips handouts for more downloadable documents on a variety of teaching topics.
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 exams 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.
In her essay for Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer puts it simply: “exam situations are pretty artificial. How often in your professional life do you have a limited time window and no access to resources or expertise?” She goes on to say: “In this age of technology, we need to be purposely teaching students how to access, organize, and apply information,” not to simply memorize it (2013). Students also respond positively to open book exams. When asked about it, “they don’t talk about how preparing the sheet helps them prioritize and organize content.” Instead, they see their reference materials as stress relievers (Weimer, 2013).
As with any form of assessment, an open book exam can come in a multitude of formats. These can fall into a few broader categories summarized by Chan as:
This issue of Best Practices will focus on the first of these categories. Within the framework of an open book exam in which students are allowed to bring reference material to review during the exam, there is also a great deal of variation. For example, only part of your exam could be open book and part could be closed. The reference material “may be known and accessible to the students (such as handouts distributed earlier), or it may be newly supplied material not previously seen by the examinees” (Gupta, 2007). The reference material could be identical for all students, such as a textbook or formula sheet, or it could be prepared by the students to meet their own needs, requiring the students themselves to select the books or materials they will bring, or to create their own notes or “crib sheets” (Gupta, 2007).
There are advantages and disadvantages to using open book exams, which have been broken down by Gupta and Chan:
Chan, Gupta, Cullen and Forsyth provides the following best practices when considering using open book exams:
Maryellen Weimer suggests that preparing a crib sheet “might be an excellent activity for an in-class review session.” Students can work together to prepare their sheets, which they submit at the end of the session and will be returned to them on exam day (2013). Students could also be required to return their crib sheets along with their exam. This allows you as the instructor to see when students had the necessary information on their crib sheet but were unable to apply it successfully, and to think about how these gaps in understanding can be addressed. Weimer also suggests using the open book format to get students to reflect on the way they studied and how they selected information. For instance, you could have them answer the following questions:
Chan C.(2009) Assessment: Open-book Examination, Assessment Resources@HKU, University of Hong Kong. http://ar.cetl.hku.hk/am_obe.htm
Cullen, R. & Forsyth, R. Assessment Design: types of assessment task – Open Book. CELT Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Manchester Metropolitan University. http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/assessment/design/open_book.php
Gupta, M. (2007). Open-Book Examinations for Assessing Higher Cognitive Abilities. IEEE Microwave Magazine. http://www.waqtc.org/other/executive-2011-07-obe.pdf
Weimer, M. (2013). Crib Sheets Help Students Prioritize and Organize Course Content. Teaching Professor Blog, Faculty Focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/crib-sheets-help-students-prioritize-and-organize-course-content/
"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist at the Learning & Teaching Office, Ryerson University.
Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!
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