Read it and weep: Mastering your open text exam

The open text exam provides an all-too-often false sense of security, leading its candidates into a last minute, unanticipated panic. Alas, fear not, the seemingly safe open-book exam is hereby going to be tackled and defeated…By Lillie Almond

Open book exams are a great opportunity to quote sections from an author’s work, and to use in depth information that you would otherwise only describe, or allude to. Yet this does not mean that any less preparation is required in the build up to these exams. Of course, you will feel a large safety net below you, in knowing that you can take that monster of a text-book into the exam hall with you.

These tips will show you just how to put it to use.

Revision and preparation:

  • Look at example questions. It is hard to know what you will be asked when it seems that you are being allowed so much physical, black and white information to be accompanying your examined presence. Find out what sorts of questions have been asked previously, so as not to be surprised.
  • Try and find useful extracts that will help you answer questions on a variety of themes. This way you learn fewer sections but in greater depth. You also don’t have to remember so many page numbers!
  • Get to know your sources. Yes, you have your book. No, you do not want or need to waste time leafing through it page by page in precious examined minutes. Find out and flag up your helpful bits beforehand, know where the good stuff is.

In the exam:

  • Take your time when reading questions. As you look at each one, think about whether or not you have an awareness of the topic’s presence in your book, and consider how you would use the information you’ve taken in. Remember, you have been allowed your sources because you are expected to use them.
  • Decide what you want to answer after looking at all of the questions in your booklet. This is to ensure that you do not repeat yourself when enthusiastically seeing one topic you like; you will be examined in several areas of the subject.
  • Don’t waste time by copying out huge chunks of text –pick out key phrases to illustrate your point and just refer to the larger context.
  • Utilise external information. This is why preparation for the exam is crucial. While you must allude to the text you have taken in, the examiner knows what you have at hand, and also wants to know what you have in your head. The best way to display this is to the information that you have learnt beforehand with your open text.

No doubt you open-book masters have infinite more hints and tips, which we would love you to share below. Sadly, you won’t be able to take all these lovely bits of advice in with you- so make the most of them now! 

Image: Open book test. Get the point?/George Thomas/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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