Dear open-note exams, please come back

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By Kate Emmanuel, Co-Copy Editor Between juggling homework, extracurriculars and a personal life during the school year, memorizing material for tests becomes a stressor unlike any other. How practical is it to have students sit around in a classroom with nothing but a pencil and their memories to answer difficult questions? Long story short: it’s...

By Kate Emmanuel, Co-Copy Editor

Between juggling homework, extracurriculars and a personal life during the school year, memorizing material for tests becomes a stressor unlike any other. How practical is it to have students sit around in a classroom with nothing but a pencil and their memories to answer difficult questions? Long story short: it’s not.

Open-note testing is more relatable to real-life situations than closed-note testing. Whether it be how many feet are in a meter or what body of water you might find a parrotfish in, you can almost always pull out your phone to search up facts in normal circumstances.  I get where the idea that closed note tests help us better understand material comes from, but they’re actually just stress inducing and less effective for students to learn from. 

According to a 2012 Institute of Education Sciences study, students not only much prefer open note testing to closed note, but they also have lower levels of anxiety while taking open-note exams. Since students struggle with memorization, it makes more sense to test how well they can apply concepts and connect ideas, rather than set harsh penalties for forgetting minute details. 

When I take a closed-note test that is based solely on memorizing information, I find myself forgetting what I learned as soon as the assessment is over. It’s way more effective for tests to be open-note and test how students can relate different parts of a topic to one another.

I’m tired of hearing that open note testing just gives students a reason not to study for tests. It’s still a race against the clock, and without solid preparation for a test, there won’t be enough time to answer each question. The time restraint on tests also ensures that students have to memorize material to a certain extent and bringing too many reference materials to a test will result in less time to answer the questions. This way, students are kept accountable and cannot just read through pages of information during a test. 

If open-note testing provides a huge advantage to students during an exam, the problem isn’t with the test-taking method, it’s with the exam itself. Students should not be able to answer test questions through a Google search. Tests should force students to use critical thinking skills. Rather than having students memorize cold facts for closed-note exams, the emphasis should be on applying information they know to questions on open-note tests. 

Open-note testing isn’t hard to incorporate in our current curriculum. The many variations of open-note exams also make it easy for teachers to find something that works for their classroom. For example, one option is to let students bring a single cheat sheet filled with as much of their own writing as they choose.This forces students to narrow information down to key details and main ideas. Another option is giving students a predetermined sheet of information such as formulas, for a class like math or chemistry. 


Kate Emmanuel can be reached at [email protected]

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