Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

More Tests Should Be Open Book

Deciding what students should and shouldn’t learn has always been difficult. Even controversial. The corona pandemic has made the issues of education even more grim.

With millions of students still learning from home, most teachers have no idea if kids are taking tests while thumbing through their textbooks.

Some schools disabled student’s browsers. Others hired remote monitors. People who watch students take tests through their webcams.

But none of that prevents the test-takers from stashing a cheat sheet out of sight.

Cheating online seems inevitable.

Yet there exists a low-cost, low-key and airtight method to make cheating impossible: the open-book exam.

But that type of assessment creates another potential problem. 

Will students learn as much about a subject if they don’t have to memorize the material?

Turns out, yes. Multiple studies show that open and closed book testing produce similar results. 

Open-book tests can even lead to better learning outcomes. Now that the student’s memory doesn’t have to be measured, the test can focus on problem-solving and other skills of high-order thinking.

As an added bonus, open-book exams better match the demands of daily life. It’s rare to be asked a difficult question outside of school that you have to solve using only your stored knowledge.

Even the best performing lawyers in the world don’t know every law and case study by heart. 

All this doesn’t mean, however, that closed-book exams have no role in education.

Closed-book testing has its own merits.

For one, students tend to study harder for closed-book exams. The difficulty of sifting through textbooks under time pressure is often underestimated. Secondly, rote learning improves long-term retention if the information is recalled often enough.

So one type of test shouldn’t replace the other. We should have both. 

More tests should be open book.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach