Studying and taking exams: Online open-book exams

August 3, 2022

When first presented with open-book exams, many students think preparation is not needed since they can access course materials. However, they quickly realize that these types of exams require just as much studying and preparation as traditional in-person exams. Here are some tips to help you study and successfully complete your online open-book exam.

Before you start:

  • Review the syllabus for themes and review course materials for key concepts.
  • Clarify which materials you can access: is it only course materials or can you use the internet?
  • Ask the instructor for the exam structure, time limits and whether you can take breaks during the exam.
  • Start looking for connections between themes and concepts.


Organize your notes.

  • Focus on application, synthesis, and evaluation of information rather than just memorization.
  • Use graphic organizers like tables, flow charts, Venn diagrams, mind maps or sticky notes to find connections and relationships between ideas and to recall facts.
  • Create an organization system to retrieve information: charts, tables, colour-code, sticky notes, page numbers, etc.

Test yourself and teach others.

  • Test yourself using the exam format (multiple choice, short answer, essay). Use old tests, create your own questions, or use textbook questions.
  • Teach course material to others. Use examples and personal connections and get them to ask you questions.
  • Use these techniques to identify your learning gaps and focus on those gaps during study sessions.

Writing the test:

  • Know how to tech troubleshoot if an issue occurs during the test.
  • Log in early.
  • Have a comfortable place to complete the exam with materials easily accessible. Share your schedule with those in the house to ensure you are undisturbed.
  • Determine how much time to spend on each question. Consider how much each question is worth what type of question it is.
  • Regardless of question type, read the question very carefully and highlight key words such as analyze, examine, explain, develop, etc.
  • Use the cover-up method for multiple choice questions: cover the answers and focus on the question, draft an answer and then reveal the possible answers to see which one matches most correctly.
  • Use scratch paper to jot down thoughts or create outlines.
  • Save time to review.

Finish the semester right – don’t cheat!

  • Don’t call your friends to discuss answers
  • Don’t search the internet for responses
  • Don’t pay someone else to write your test

Good luck!