Art by Samantha Miller
School is meant to prepare students for the future, providing them with skills and knowledge they can benefit from forever. Closed-note exams, however, do not help students achieve this goal.
Studies show closed-note exams create anxiety, promote cramming and encourage short-term memorization — all of which actually result in lower long-term understanding of a topic, according to the American Psychological Association. Open-note testing, however, promotes student success, long-term learning and reduces test anxiety.
The Levels of Processing theory shows that cramming is a form of shallow processing, while thinking through a concept is a form of deep processing. In the short term, both may work the same, which is why test scores for open and closed-note tests do not differ significantly. In the long term, deep processing does not fade in the way shallow processing does.
With open-note tests, students are often more inclined to take thorough notes and do research on topics they do not understand so they can accurately answer exam questions, according to Dr. D Math. This process itself is engaging in a form of studying that will result in lasting understanding rather than cramming.
For those worried giving open-note exams will inflate grades, studies — such as one the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges conducted — show the average grades of open- versus closed-note exams are essentially the same. The positive effects are within the student themselves.
The act of studying for an exam is essentially the same for an open or closed-note test, according to Cornell University. The difference is the style of studying — night-before cramming versus thoughtful preparation, for example.
The major benefit of open-note exams, however, is the lowered anxiety levels and calmer mindset a student has going into an open-note exam versus a closed-note exam.
The National Library of Medicine reported that as of 2020, up to 40% of students in the U.S. experience test anxiety. Tests are one of the most stress-inducing part of students’ lives and often cause the loss of half a letter grade compared to students who do not experience test anxiety, according to Oxford Learning.
Experts recommend coping mechanisms for reducing test anxiety, like avoiding caffeine and getting a good night’s sleep. At the same time, students who have test anxiety tend to be more likely to cram, causing them to be tired before exams, according to Lumen Learning.
Because of that, many students experience a combination of test anxiety, tiredness and lack of memorization skills on the day of the exam, causing them not to do well.
Open-note exams more closely resemble the “real world” than closed-note exams, a 2016 study in the Journal of Effective Teaching showed. In this day and age, everyone with access to the internet has a plethora of resources at their fingertips — literally.
Open-note exams increase students’ ability to problem-solve, make decisions and quickly find answers they need from reliable sources, researchers in the study found.
Washington University in St. Louis’ Center for Teaching and Learning suggests open-note exams are best to ask students to apply their knowledge rather than just memorize definitions. If students learn to be resourceful and quickly look for accurate and vetted information — or gather thorough information for future use — they will be more likely to succeed in their careers.
Open-note exams reduce anxiety and provide students with tools they will be able to use in their life beyond school. By improving long-term health and developing skill sets, open-note exams have benefits in every area of a student’s life.
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Email Liza Esquibias: firstname.lastname@example.org