2.5 Open Book Exams

Open book exams require a lot of preparation and planning. Lots of students make the mistake of thinking that they do not have to do as much to ready themselves for an open-book exam, but those who look at their textbook or notes for every question will be unlikely to finish the exam on time, so it is still important to study the content well in advance of the open-book exam. In addition, you will want to get well acquainted with how your resources are laid out, so you can find what you need, when you need it during the exam.

Tips for Preparing for Open Book Exams

Know Your Textbook’s Table of Contents and Index

The table of contents will help you remember which chapters relate to question topics, and the index can help you target the locations of specific keywords in the text. You can also add your own key terms and words to the index and note the page numbers that have useful, relevant information.

Understand the Layout of Each Chapter

Many textbooks structure their information in specific ways. For instance, each chapter might start with an anecdote, followed by some information about why it is relevant. Then, each section might begin with key terms and definitions, followed by a case study, followed by a discussion. Is there a predictable pattern to how your chapters are laid out? Knowing this will help you quickly locate specific types of information, such as an example to use in a short answer response.

Limit Your Use of Flags, Bookmarks, or Sticky Notes

If your textbook has too many flags and sticky notes in it, you may find that you need to spend too much time flipping through all of these marked pages looking for something specific. Reserve your use of these highly visible markers for key information that you are likely going to have to refer to several times throughout the exam or for extra-special pieces of information that are highly specific and difficult to find using the contents and index pages, like examples, images, or quotations.

Use Margin Notations to Point to Other Helpful Sections

This is another useful way of cutting down on distracting flag or sticky note clutter. A quick “see page ___” note in a margin is an easy way to ensure you do not miss other helpful sections of the text and for you to remind yourself of good connections between ideas and content.


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Navigating an Undergraduate Degree in the Social Sciences by Diane Symbaluk, Robyn Hall, and Geneve Champoux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.