If you’re reading this, it means that at some point you have or you will be sitting an open-book exam. I am here to share my top tips to help you excel as you tackle your open-book exams.
As someone who obtained a first-class law degree from doing open book exams in her final year of law, you’ll be pleased to know that I am here to share all of my top tips for succeeding in your open book exams!
Just in case you are new here, let’s quickly examine what an open-book exam is.
Table of Contents:
WHAT IS AN OPEN-BOOK EXAM?
An open-book exam allows you (the student) to sit an exam that is similar to an in-person exam in an exam hall – except this time, you are allowed to consult materials whilst doing your exam eg. textbooks, case law, legislation etc. Sometimes you are limited in time like 3 hours, sometimes you have 24 hours, and sometimes you have 1 week to complete the exam! It depends on your institution.
If you have heard of a ‘take-home examination’ and wondered ‘what is that?’ Well, that is an open-book exam as well.
When preparing for open-book exams, there are a few things to bear in mind. And each of these points are so important to know because even though you have the materials right in front of you, it doesn’t mean that the exam is easy. Why? Keep reading.
Let’s begin with our first tip for preparing for open-book exams:
1. IF YOU HAVE MULTIPLE OPEN-BOOK EXAMS, CREATE YOUR OWN PERSONALISED TIMETABLE.
This was definitely the best thing I did during my open-book exams. I had 6 open book exams and 12 days to complete them. Having my own personalised timetable to organise how I would approach each exam paper, when to take breaks, and when to sleep was important. Honestly, this was a game-changer.
It is important to create your own personalised timetable to avoid burnout and to ensure that you are getting plenty of rest in between each paper. As you will be sitting your exam at home, it’s easy to leave things until the last minute but this just doesn’t work. If you want to get through this – you need to get organised!
This is what I did:
Grab a BLANK piece of paper and a LINED piece of paper.
List down your open book exams on LINED paper. It’s important to visually see your workload to prompt you to organise your time wisely and in a way that suits you.
Next, grab your BLANK piece of paper and draw a very rough outline of a timetable. When do you want a break? What time do you want to work? When do you want to eat? What time do you want to wake up/sleep? Is your exam timed? If not, how many days do you want to spend on one exam?
Plan everything out to a T.
I have created a printable timetable which you can use to get started. It will help you plan everything out and you will be ready to excel in these exams.
Now that you have an idea of what you’ll be doing, use this timetable to stay focussed on your exams and your own rest times. This will help you stay on track with your exam.
2. REST IS KEY, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE MULTIPLE OPEN-BOOK EXAMS
I will say this once, and once only.. do not underestimate open book exams.
You will be tired. Open book exams are mentally draining and you will feel sluggish towards the end of it. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. Hence, it is important to rest as much as you can prior to and during your open book exams.
Now – this does not mean that you should sleep in, go to bed late, or stay up until all hours because ‘Janet said I need my sleep’.
No. In addition to your studies and revision, ensure that you’re getting enough sleep and rest because once the exam paper(s) is released, it is go-time and all systems go!
I wrote a blog post on my raw, unfiltered, and honest experience of doing open-book exams. You can check it out here.
3. YOU HAVE TO PREPARE FOR OPEN BOOK EXAMS
Goodness me. This.. is a very very important message. This should have been Tip 1 to be perfectly honest with you but we are here now. You have GOT to plan and organise your notes, folders, books, sources of law, USB sticks – absolutely everything. Leave no sheet of paper unturned.
Students tend to assume that you don’t need to prepare for an open book exam because the materials will be right beside you so why waste time studying right? Now there is an element of truth to this. but let’s think for a second.
Your paper is released at 9a.m. You open the paper and the first question is based on a tutorial topic that you did at the beginning of the academic year. You know that you attended the tutorial but… you have misplaced your tutorial notes. Panic mode starts to kick in.
This is why preparation is key – the time that you are spending searching for your notes and materials should be swift. You should be able to know where your notes are so that if a question on a topic that you did pops up, you know where it is, you can go through your notes and materials and spend your time prepping and planning your answer.
If your open book exam is timed, you should use every minute to focus on planning and writing your open book exam answer – not looking for your sources!
So how do you prepare for open-book exams? Here are a few things to bear in mind:
- Make a list of sources and articles that you will need for each topic, it can be time-consuming but you will thank yourself during the exams.
- For physical notes – keep all of your notes in an arch-lever file folder and have a contents page to easily locate materials (TIP: I used polly pockets and dividers to keep and organise my papers)
- If you use digital notes – organise your online folders by the name of your module and have subfolders for various assessments e.g. tutorial notes, class notes, articles, cases etc.
- For Digital notes – keep 2 USBs and save all materials on both USBs (check out Tip 5!)
Basically – preparation and organisation are key to open-book exam success!
4. TREAT OPEN BOOK EXAMS AS IF YOU WERE SITTING IN AN EXAM HALL
The number one mistake that almost ALL students make when it comes to open book exams is mistaking it for an assignment and thus, treating it like it was an assignment.
I don’t blame you, you’re writing a paper from home. How is that any different from an assignment?!
Well the difference here is that… this is an EXAM! *mind-blown?*
You are being graded AS IF you were in the exam hall at that moment in time. So please don’t make the mistake of treating this as an assignment. It still demands and requires the same level of attention and knuckling down that any ordinary exam does.
5. FINALLY – SAVE YOUR MATERIALS AND FILES IN 2 LOCATIONS
Allow me to share a story about my open book exam for Equity.
This was the one exam that I was very nervous for; I felt like I couldn’t sit the paper but as soon as I opened the paper, I thought ‘actually I can do this’. So I prepped, planned and began writing my paper. I remembered saving my answer on my second USB stick but apparently I didn’t save it on my first USB stick. The next morning when I wanted to go over my answers, my laptop didn’t turn on meaning that the battery was gone. When I plugged in the charger, the work I did was gone. Poof.
I thought that this was the end of me.
All of my work, a whole day’s worth of work – gone. I tried to locate my last draft but I couldn’t find it anywhere. My laptop was already in tatters and I was a nervous wreck.
Luckily, I saved the second last draft on my second USB so I didn’t lose too much and I had very little improvements to make but I learned a very hard lesson that day.
Make sure that your laptop/computer is ready, turn on ‘autosave’ on Word, and I know this is a bit out there but maybe have TWO USB sticks because if I didn’t have my second one I would have lost a day’s worth of work overnight. (Please don’t ask why I saved my work on one UCS as opposed to both USB sticks, I was tired ok!)
I hope these tips will be an eye-opener for you. If you follow these tips you should not have a problem as you embark on your open book exams.
And on that final note – good luck!!
Got some questions about doing an open book exam? You’ll find me chatting away on my Instagram so don’t be shy, come and say hi! Or email me at: email@example.com.
Until the next blog post,
Slán go foill!
Featured image designed on Canva/Unsplash.