Running with the theme of assessment styles, this week I’m tackling an on-going debate; Open book or closed book exams.
Open book exams are an assessment method that allows learners to take text books, notes and other materials into an exam. Closed book exams are exactly the opposite, learner’s cannot take any materials into the exam and must recall everything from memory.
But which exam style yields greater results?
Student’s prefer open book exams and find that they’re anxiety levels are reduced during these types of exams compared to traditional closed book exams (Williams & Wong, 2009). It can be argued that closed book exams are the norm in higher education but Stalnaker & Stalnaker (1934) suggest that open book exams are more likely to encourage deeper learning. The deep approach to learning is when the learner focuses on meaning and understanding of the information and less about the memorisation of the material (Marton & Saljo, 1976), and generally results in a longer retention rate of the material. This style of exam evokes learners to put less emphasis on memorisation, since they can take texts books and notes into the exams, and more emphasis on the understanding of the information.
Another study suggests (Feller, 1994) that open book exams are more realistic. When in your life are you going to be in a situation when you need to recall or solve a problem without access to a book or information? In this day and age most people have a smart phone, they have the world wide web at their fingertips. Understanding and deciphering this information is far more relevant and realistic than memory skills which closed book exams implement.
Research has found that student’s performance improves on open book exams (Olsen, 1974). However, is there an improvement in retention? A study conducted in August last year (Gharib, Phillips & Mathew, 2012) conducted a study comparing exam performance in open-book, closed-book and cheat sheet style exams. They also investigated the anxiety levels of the student’s who participated in this research. The results showed that open book exams yielded the highest grades wit closed book exams resulting in the poorest exam grades, cheat sheet exams sat in the middle. They found that anxiety levels were lowest in open book exams. However, the retention rate across the three styles of examination were the same. There was no difference in retention rates!
However, I think anxiety levels is an important factor to account for. Student’s in University take so many exams, would this be a less daunting experience throughout their education if they were allowed material in exams?
So open-book exams yields the best grades in exams, students have lower anxiety compared to closed book and cheat sheet exams but the retention rate is not improved. I think that open book exams are beneficial, they allow students to apply knowledge and gain understanding instead of putting so much focus on regurgitating facts that they do not understand.
What do you think?