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Tips for online open-book exams

The exam period has just finished and a new semester full of new challenges and excitements is approaching.

Maybe it’s a bit late to share tips for how to do well on an online open-book exam, but I feel it necessary to share my ‘freshly baked’ experiences from this extraordinary examination period. Who knows? Perhaps they will serve you useful for preparing for your next exams.

Be aware of the differences between conventional closed-book exams and open-book exams.

With exams moving online and changing to an open-book way of examination, the expectations from lecturers of exam performance and answers have also changed. In other words, in a closed-book examination, we were allowed to memorize the lecture content and then reproduce it into the answer sheet. With open-book exams, conversely, given that everyone has access to lecture materials, questions will not be so straightforward and may require further critical thinking from the materials learned.

You might need to show exceptional and further knowledge of the content covered in the lectures to outstand from your classmates and to get an excellent mark. Past exam papers will be a good source for practising, but don’t expect open-book exam questions to be the same as conventional exam questions.

Bearing these in mind when preparing for the final exam will greatly improve your performance.

Be 100% familiar with the examinable material and …

Although it is not allowed to directly copy material from the slides, the book, the internet or any other sources; being familiar with the examinable material – such as lecture slides, the core textbook, workshop answers, seminar notes, etc. – will help you to quickly find the specific content needed when you want to check the evidence for your answer or you may want to use a formula for a calculation.

… think deeper

Explaining the content from the examinable material in your own words will be the basis for a good answer, but the in-depth knowledge/understanding and critical thinking are what make your answer outstand from others’ responses. Don’t frame yourself too tightly to the lecture content, try to think more broadly and critically. I found noting down my own thoughts from the slides and extra readings to be very useful for developing good arguments and finding evidence to support my explanations.

And a final tip: SLEEP WELL before the exam

A well-rested brain is a basis for an excellently performed exam. Don’t stay up all night for studying. To develop good and critically thought arguments, your brain needs to be in its full potential!

I believe with how uncertain things are going around and the challenges faced to cope with the new ways of examination, this exam season has definitely not been easy for most of us. It’s fine if you didn’t perform as expected. Sharing one of my favourite quotes from a professor of Stanford – Tina Seeling: “There will always be uncertainty at each turn but armed with the confidence that comes from seeing how others have coped with similar ambiguities, the stress will morph into excitement, and the challenges you face will become opportunities.” I hope my experiences from this examination period will resonate with you and provide useful insights for preparing for the next exams.

As one of my favourite lecturers, Reza, would say: “You will definitely fly through your exams!”