The (honest) truth about Open Book Exams

The (honest) truth about Open Book Exams

So let’s talk about open book exams. And let’s be very real and honest about them. It’s 5pm on May 27th. It is a beautiful summer’s day and it has been one week since finishing up on my exams.

Little did I know that exactly one week after finishing my exams, I would feel exhausted and tired as if life had been sucked out of me.

I think that it is easy for us to think that open book exams are easy.

“Ah, sure the books are right in front of you!”

“You couldn’t possibly fail an open book exam now.”

“What have you got to lose?”

And that is where the problem begins.

Suddenly, because the exam material is right in front of you, there’s no possible way that you could not do well in these exams. I think it is important for me to iterate something – GRADES are not a reflection of who you are.

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So let’s focus on one thing: the after-effects of open book exams.

I am sitting here as someone who still feels mentally tired from doing my final year exams. I wish I had known that I would feel this way after doing them. But I didn’t. The global pandemic that has fundamentally changed the face of our world has meant that we must conduct our work online and at home.

It was a shock to learn that I would be doing my final year law exams at home. I had already spent the past 2 years of my degree in a university setting. I was very much of the idea that I would be doing my exams IN a university setting. If only I knew…

I’d like to take a trip down memory as I share my experience of doing open book exams at home.

So, it is Monday 8th May and at 9am all of our exams are released at the same time. I chose to design a timetable which dictated on what days I would be doing which exams. Having looked at my first exam paper (which had to be the easiest paper as I knew that I would fly through it. Knowing this actually helped me settle into my first time doing open book exams). And it worked – I flew through that exam paper!

I strategically chose one of my harder exam papers second as I wanted to get it out of the way. It meant that I would not be worrying for the next 10 days on one exam paper alone which would have distracted me from my other exam papers. Smart right?

As I struggled to decide on what question to work on, and how to answer it and if I was satisfied with my work, eventually I had my answer written- I mean, typed out.

Next paper was my hardest paper. It seemed smart to do an easy paper first and then the hardest paper next. Let me tell you this: it worked so well. I spent a long time preparing my answers and planning and sketching out ideas. It started to feel like I didn’t know what I was doing but I remained disciplined and eventually got it done within my personalised ‘exam’ timetable. it means that for the next few exam papers, I felt more comfortable doing them, knowing that I had the hardest one out of the way.

But was it really that much more comfortable?

By the time I got to exam paper number 4, I was so over this. I was not sleeping comfortably. I was tired from staring at a computer screen day in and day out. My hands were starting to feel reaaaally stiff and hardly able to move in any other position other than ‘the keyboard hands’ position.

It wasn’t pretty. My typical routine for exams had gone out the window. I was having my breakfast beside my exam papers. There was very little interaction with my family. And when I was not working on my papers, I was eating or sleeping. I seemed to have lost the concept of time too because every hour seemed to be the same.

My mind was slowly working less and less. I could tell that my mind was getting tired from the constant thinking and conjuring up opinions and ideas to answer my exam papers.

Not to be too dramatic, but I felt like I was slowly disintergrating.

So what happened next?

It became too much. I felt like I was overwhelmed even though I was in the comfort of my home and my family.

I strated to feel under pressure that maybe, just maybe, I misred the question.

So many questions started circling around in my head, all of which could not answer.

The truth is… Open book exams are hard. And there is no long or short about it. The have their own challenges in terms of unstable sleeping patterns, spending large amount of time on one question and feeling like your head is going to explode at any moment in time.

For anyone that has an open book exam coming up in the next few weeks or days, please know this.

You will be tired. Your sleeping pattern will be distrubed. You will question yourself on the questons you have answered.


When they are done, they are done. And that feeling is like no other.

Having said this, open book exams are much easier to handle. You don’t have to worry about getting up early, running for the bus or train or any of those things that you would normally worry about if you were commuting to the exam hall.

I hope my experience will help any student who will be undergoing an Open Book Exam soon.

Leave a comment down below if you have done an open book exam. What was your experience like?

Don’t forget that you can contact me on my contacts page and have a chat about open book exams!

See you at the next blog post.


Disclaimer: Featured image designed from Canva.


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  1. 16/09/2020 / 6:19 pm

    Aw, this is super reassuring, I’m about to start my first year of big stressful exams. I hope you’re feeling much more mentally rested now 🙂

    • Janet Abiba Yennusick
      17/09/2020 / 9:26 am

      It was tough because I hadn’t experienced exams in this way but I got through it in the end! Oh the very best of luck with your exams!