Why Take an Open Note Test?

I’ve seen students have lots of different reactions to open note tests. Some are confused, some are very happy, some feel duped, some feel relieved. The fact is, open note tests do have a place in our curriculums, and they can be just as useful of an indicator of how well a student understands the material as a traditional test.

While there’s no proof of what kind of testing works best for students, there is ample anecdotal evidence that students are likely to study the same amount for an open note test as a standard test. So, what really makes an open note test different from a standard test?

It can change in-class habits.

Students who feel pressured to perform to test grades might spend most of their classroom time taking notes instead of responding to prompts or questions, and highlighting text instead of taking a good look at new material. Students who know that an open note test is coming at the end of the section can feel more able to spend time focused on the content, interacting with worksheets, teachers, or peers, and dedicating their attention to the subject matter instead of trying to digest the material as fast as possible.

It reinforces good study habits.

Open note tests ask the student to predict what content will be in the
test, and be familiar enough with their textbook and other resources to know where that information is located. Instead of pouring over notes they wrote during the unit, or study aides they made later, students focus on the textbook itself.

It lowers test stress.

All students experience test stress to some degree, and test stress is known to have an impact on scores—meaning that students who do know the subject matter, who did study, and who are prepared may still not achieve their best score! If your student struggles with test anxiety, an open note test can make the difference between a negative experience, and the student feeling able to complete their best work.

It can help students engage with the content in a deeper way.

An open note test should be designed to be taken with notes—meaning the questions might be more complex, have more layers, or require more of a written response to be adequately answered. This gives students the opportunity to demonstrate that they not only understand the core concepts from the lesson plan, but are also able to explore how those concepts can be used in greater depth.

And frankly, for some complex subject areas, it just makes sense! Using math as an example, we often rely on formulas, data sets, and other unwieldy groups of information in order to draw conclusions and make calculations. For statistics and other higher math subjects, giving an open note test is as freeing for the student as for the teacher. You can keep using data sets or formulas from the text, building on existing knowledge and reinforcing comfort in the subject area, without having to reinvent data or provide extended formulas in a new way.

Want to try open note tests as part of your lesson plans, but not sure where to start? Take a look at the tests that are part of your current curriculum. Some of them might already lend themselves to an open note format: tests that are logic problems, word examples, or provide data and formulas are already providing an extensive amount of content inside of the test that could be adapted to fit content from the textbook itself.

You can also experiment with using open note tests as a regular check-in during the course of a semester. Because open note tests prompt students to have more working knowledge of their textbook and other resources, students might find at the end of a unit that they’ve studied a chapter more closely than ever before!

In the end, finding the right way to measure knowledge is going to be different for each student. Open note tests are one tool to have that can inspire different performance from students, while also letting them feel more relaxed about the testing process.

Try it in your next unit, and leave me a comment on this post to let me know how it went!

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