Assessment Design: types of assessment task

Open Book Exam

What is it?

Time constrained unseen exams where students can bring in books or folders can be useful if you want to test skills in application, analysis and evaluation i.e. higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, rather than knowledge reproduction or to present students with new situations or scenarios to be addressed against a deadline.

They can be particularly useful if you want to see how students cope with a particular professional situation without much time to consult widely. They also test students' ability to identify and bring with them the right kind of material.

Recommended levels:

4 – 7

Suitable for groups?


Things to think about

The wording of the questions is very important, and will need to test students’ ability to apply available information to a new situation rather than their ability to recall what has been learned on the course.

You need to specify in advance what type of material and how much of it students can bring in. This could range from one piece of paper to an entire folder they have prepared themselves. Will you allow text books and if so, will you specify which ones and which editions are allowed? If annotations are not permitted then you will need to check everything or provide the books yourselves.

If you have set constraints on type or volume of material you need to have procedures in place for checking whether material is acceptable.

Students will need clear guidance on how to prepare their materials and themselves for the exam and what the purpose of using the open book approach is.

Assignment length

The usual rule of thumb for an exam question is that students should be able to sit and write the answer in half the time available for the question (the other half of the time being for thinking and planning). In a two hour exam, students might be able to write 1500 – 2000 words in total but this is very variable depending on discipline and level. This will be the same for an open book exam as for any other type of exam.

Group work

Students sit this type of examinations as individuals.

Plagiarism issues

Examinations do not generally carry a risk of plagiarism, however, if students can bring in materials then there is an increased risk. This can be reduced by having topical questions which require analysis and synthesis rather than factual recall. If recall is important, then open book exams are not a good option.


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