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Open-book and at-home exams (part 1) – before you begin 

Open-book and at-home exams (part 1) – before you begin 

Sitting an open-book, at-home exam is different to what most students are used to. In this three-part mini-series, we will offer some practical advice to successfully complete them.   

You might think: “Great! I can have all my books and notes in front of me during the exam, so I don’t need to revise as much!”   

If you have ever been in an exam hall and got stuck trying to remember a detail (like a formula or date), open-book exams seem great. You can have all the information with you.  

Too much information may hinder you: it takes longer to find things. This is especially true with time-limited exams. Plus, if you have not put the time into revising to understand the material, it will be difficult to answer the questions appropriately. Open-book exams go beyond expecting a simple recall of facts and figures: everybody would do well with full access to their course material if this was the case. To do well, you have to apply knowledge; analyse, evaluate and critique arguments and evidence; and make comparisons between ideas and cases.   

Before starting your revision, find out the following:   

  • How long do you have to sit the exam (e.g. 3 hours or 24 hours)? This will help you plan how you will sit the exam.   
  • What is expected in your answers? While a traditional Social Policy exam, for example, might not require you to supply a bibliography, will the take-home paper? Will you need page numbers for in-text references? Is there a word-limit? Consult your course information or staff about this.   
  • Online exam questions could be different to those contained in past papers, so ask about the relevance of these. There is no point in spending hours answering past exams if they are irrelevant.   
  • What are the technical requirements for the exam? Will you need a scanner if your answers are handwritten, or will photos suffice? Will you need a statistical package to work with raw data? What software will you use to submit your answers? Do a practice run beforehand, if possible.   

You will need a relatively deep knowledge of the material. You need to spend time before the exam making notes, linking topics and writing out your thoughts about given theories/evidence. Do a topic stock-take:   

  • Do your notes help you understand all the key and sub-topics?   
  • Have you got a complete set of notes and materials?   

If the answer is “no” to these questions, you should prioritise studying gaps in your knowledge. Have a look at our Topic stock-take sheet in Exam Bootcamp.   

If you do not revise and simply look at textbooks for the first time during the exam, you might panic trying to come up with a critique, or applying knowledge to a new case, in a tight timeframe. So be prepared.   

In the next post, Open-book and at-home exams (Part 2), we will look at some key aspects of effective revision.   


Further links   

Study Hub Learning Resources has advice on Exams and Time management.   

There is also advice on preparing for, revising and sitting exams in Exam Bootcamp (a self-enroll course in Learn Ultra ). 



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