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How to Take an Open-Book Exam

Updated on August 4, 2012
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.


I’ve taken many open book tests over the years. One thing I have noticed is the tendency of students to assume the test will be easy. They don’t prepare themselves and walk into an academic trap.

It is important to know how to take an open book test. You want to be prepared like any other test. What is the difference then? You have the ultimate resources to pass the test with flying colors if you know how to use them right.

Read the Material

Just because you are taking an open book test doesn’t mean the answers will be easy to find or will jump out at you. If you don’t read the material before you take the open book test, you will spend all your time reading and searching desperately for the answers when you should be writing down the answers and finishing the test.

Read the material before you set down to the exam. That will make it easier for you to find the answers. Always be familiar with the material. Read over it a couple of times. Keep in mind that when you set down to the take the test, you will experience anxiety and be on a time limit. Make it as easy on yourself as you can.

Glance Over Headings

After you have read the material, refresh your memory right before you take the exam. Look over chapter names as most open book exams will cover multiple chapters. Don’t read the text again. Read the section titles. Read headings. Read captions under pictures or comments in a box on the page. Hit the highlights.


By doing this before you take the exam, you are refreshing you memory as to where to look for topics. If a heading says, “World War II Aftershocks,” this section will tell you to look there only when you are asked a question about after the war and not before. No need to read the text. The heading says it all.


Eliminate Distractions

Open book exams can be taken within a traditional classroom or at home with online classes. No matter where the setting is, distractions need to be eliminated. This means turning the cell phone off, no music (unless you are one that functions better with it), no television, and no one around you talking. You need to be able to focus on the test in front of you.

This is typically a problem for those that take classes online and are taking an open book exam at home or wherever their laptop is. Don’t take an open book exam at the coffee shop. Don’t take it while the family is watching TV in the same room. Create an environment that is more conducive to you focusing on the exam.

Choose Easy/Obvious Questions First

This suggestion does depend on what kind of open book test you are taking. If you only have one essay, this is a moot point. If it is a test full of multiple choice questions, fill in the blank, or a variety of essay questions, go through each question and skip ones you are unsure of. Start off by answering the easy ones.

Next, go back to the beginning and read the first skipped question. Scan over the book for headings that will draw you in for answers. If the location of the answer is not obvious, skip it again. Work your way down to where you only have the hardest ones to find left.

Read Captions and Comments

Too often the captions under a photograph, illustration, chart, or other image is ignored. Believe it or not, lots of information can be found there. Many instructors pull questions on open book exams from those locations. Read those carefully.

Never Assume

Never assume that an open book exam is a breeze because you can use the book. From personal experience, I can tell you that some instructors will make it harder because of that. They want to weed out the ones who didn’t read the material thinking they were going to breeze by. You’ll regret it.

Taking an open book test can be a success if you don't assume it will be easy and prepare yourself just as you would for a regular test.

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    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 5 years ago from Indiana

      Awesome suggestions! It is a good idea to study for open book tests just like you would for other tests. I've found it makes the test easier to complete. Voted up and useful.

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      This is a great hub, my sister had an open book exam not too long ago and while teachers think it's a no-brainer, students often don't know how to prepare or what they should do during their open book exam. Voted up!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Great tips! I only had a few open-book exams in my own education, but I know they're a huge part of many students' college experiences. I, too, have heard the tales of those who assumed it meant they didn't need to study or pay attention in class. I hope your Hub helps someone else avoid that trap!

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Very interesting hub. Thankfully I've never had to take an open book test and I'm glad. You are definately right when you say that many students expect it to be easy - I've heard a few horror stories from students who took these exams and approached them with a cock-sure attitude only to be shot down in flames! We always learn the hard way.

      A very enjoyable and useful hub + voted up!