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Saint Leo Blog

4 Key Open Book Exam Tips for In-Person & Online Tests

Open book exams may sound like a piece of cake, but using these test-taking tips on your next one can help you feel more confident in yourself and give you a chance to get a better grade.

A photo of a young male college student looking at a textbook as he prepares for an open book exam

Some university instructors give their students open book exams. As its name suggests, an open book exam is a test in which you can use your textbook and other course materials to answer the questions given.

While this type of exam seems almost fool-proof (how can you fail if you have all of the information needed right there in front of you?), using an open book isn’t always as easy as it sounds. So, here are a few open book exam and general test-taking tips to help you be more successful.

1. Highlight important facts, figures, and other key details.

Instructors use tests to ensure that you have learned the information provided in the course that they feel is most important to your success and increased understanding of the topic. This typically involves answering questions about specific facts, figures, processes, and ideas that are contained somewhere within your textbooks and other course materials.

Highlighting this type of data when you are learning the material makes it easier to refer back to during the open book exam. It helps it stand out from all of the other text. When you can find the information you want more quickly, you aren’t wasting a lot of time during the exam trying to locate a particular fact.

Bonus Test-Taking Tip

Use different color highlighters for different types of information. If you’re studying anatomy, for instance, use one color to highlight muscles and another color to highlight bones. Create a legend so you know which color highlight you need to go back and find.

2. Separate chapters with tabs.

Some open book exams follow the coursework in the order it is presented, meaning that you will move sequentially through your textbook from beginning to end. Others test your knowledge more randomly. In cases such as this, you can wind up spending a lot of time flipping back and forth through the book when looking for the answers.

Prepare yourself for a randomized open book exam by using small sticky notes to separate the chapters more clearly. Then, when you are faced with a specific question that you’re unsure of the answer to, you simply find the tab to the corresponding chapter, and you’re already halfway there.

Bonus Test-Taking Tip

You can also use tabs to more quickly access important information contained within the chapters. This could include tabbing data-packed charts or a specific case study that you’re sure will be somewhere on the test.

3. Take your own notes in the textbook margins.

Even though an open book exam enables you to access all of your course materials, it can be cumbersome to take everything you need to the classroom on test day. If you’re taking the open book exam online, using multiple materials can be just as difficult as you try to remember which one contains the information being tested.

One way to get around this is to consolidate information in other course materials into your main textbook. Write notes in the margins of a corresponding chapter so you don’t have multiple pieces of paper or books to flip through during the actual test.

Bonus Test-Taking Tip

This tip also works when the course only has one book to review. Sometimes it is easier to find your handwriting versus trying to locate a fact within the text. If you don’t want to rewrite a piece of data, circle it, underline it, or draw an arrow pointing to it. This helps it stand out better when you are going back and looking for it.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of the pre-test review.

When you know that the test you are about to take is an open book exam, you may be less likely to spend the time studying for it. You’ll have all of the information needed to pass the test right at your fingertips, so why bother re-familiarizing yourself with what you’ve learned, right? Not exactly.

Taking the time to do a pre-test review helps better prepare you for the open book exam. It enables you to get through the test faster because you know the information being tested. It also makes it easier to remember where the data is in the book if you do need to go back and reference it.

Plus, true success in your field of choice still requires you to learn your course materials. So, just because an exam is open book doesn’t mean that you don’t need to know the information presented. The test should simply reinforce your knowledge while also providing some insight into what information is most important to learn.

Bonus Test-Taking Tip

Many times, textbook chapters open with an objective, outlining what you will learn in the pages ahead. They also often end with a summary of the information provided. These are good pages to look at when doing your pre-test review.

The Bottom Line on Open Book Exams

While open book exams often sound like a piece of cake, there are some simple strategies you can utilize to increase your chances of getting a good grade on your next one. Follow the above test-taking tips on your next open book exam and you may find it easier to show that you’ve learned the information needed to not only succeed in the course but also in your field of choice.

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