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National College of Ireland


Exams guide: Open Book Exams

Preparing for an Open Book Exam

Preparing for the Exam

As with other exams, you should approach an open book exam with a pre-planned approach to answer a number of different types of questions based on the book. That way, you will not lose time in the exam searching for new material but be able to adapt one of your rehearsed frameworks to the question(s) being asked

Revise as you would for any other exam making a note of which parts of the book you could use for answering different types of questions

Look at past exam papers to familiarise yourself with the format of the paper and practice planning some answers; if this isn’t available, try and gain an understanding from your lecturer the likely areas of the text to focus on and make up some questions based on this knowledge

Use your lecture notes for the module to provide you with additional material relevant to possible topics in the exam and to point you towards other texts that you can incorporate into your revision

Plan ahead to make sure that you have a copy of the correct edition of the book on the day of the exam; earlier or later editions of the book may be significantly different. Find out in advance what you are allowed to do with the book; e.g. are you allowed to bookmark certain pages to help you find certain parts of text during the exam?

Doing an Open Book Exam

Doing the Exam

Check what you are allowed to use or bring into your exam. Students may be allowed the use of one notebook with handwritten material; you may also be allowed books, photocopies or lecture notes

Sometimes open book means that students may access their own home drive where they may store lecture notes, assignments, laboratory exercises, books. Open book does not include Internet access or access to Moodle; the use of messaging systems and external storage devices is strictly forbidden.

Open book exams are not so much a test of memory; they are looking for you to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and construct an argument to answer the question(s) you’ve been given. In order to do this, it is important that you don’t just provide a list of quotations – quotations should only be used to support your own argument not replace it

The main marks will be awarded for a demonstration of your own understanding of the topic and your ability to construct an organised argument NOT your ability to copy quotes from the book

Try and use the open book as a source for quick referral; try and use your practised answer plans as much as possible rather than search for new material

You should include proper referencing in your writing as much as possible (including author and year of publication; put in a page number for quotations); you won’t need to include a reference list at the end