open book finals

Jeffrey Kirby ez043438 at
Tue May 5 12:19:05 EST 1998

First I'd like to note that whether open-book makes exams a better
learning tool is entirely dependent on the exam type. If it's a short
answer or multiple choice exam with a lot of questions you are asking
students to learn how to look up trivial facts quickly. If the exam is
long, in-depth conceptual essay questions, open-book shouldn't help the
people who haven't paid attention much (although it will some) and won't
help those who know the concepts much beyond taking time away from them to
look up those words that slipped their minds. If the exam is a short essay
format on things that can be looked up, open-book may still hinder some
people (who figure they needn't study if they can look it up during the
test). I'm not saying open-book is bad; I'm saying open-book can be bad if
the test is not tailored to it.

Kathleen Archer (Kathleen.Archer at MAIL.CC.TRINCOLL.EDU) wrote:
: A week or so before the final, I give students a list of 10 - 12 questions.
:  The students can use any source they want in addition to their book and
: notes to develop answers.  I encourage them to write out their ideas in
: advance of the final itself.  On the day of the final, I select 5-6

The plant phys lecture here uses a variation of this. The profs give out a
list of sixty-three old exam questions on the second day of class. 
Midterms (two of them) have either two or three questions and are 50
minutes long (in the three question version, students pick two to answer). 
The final has five questions, answer three (one is a given, two are
choices between two options).  No notes, no books (besides the blue books
they answer in). The questions are in-depth, conceptual, and easily last
the fifty minutes. Sometimes the questions on the exam were on the list,
sometimes not. Grading is split up by question (one prof takes one, the
other takes another, each TA gets one question (or shares a question with
a prof on midterms after they discuss how to grade it)) and is done the
next day. 

These question lists are covered partially in discussion sections of ten
students (optional, but nearly everyone takes the discussion). The TAs
assign one question a week (and points out other relevant questions) to
prepare for the following week and one student gets to answer it that
week. Discussions often arise from this and from questions on the lecture


-----------------------------                                      -----
        Jeffrey A. Kirby                         jakirby at


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