Open Book Assessments

What is an Open Book Assessment?

Open Book Assessments can take on many different formats, but the standard elements include the fact that they are taken without supervision, while allowing students to access resources like the textbook, class notes and other memory aides. Other features could include time limits and availability restrictions or deadlines to complete. 

An open book assessment is often used as a high-stakes, summative assessment when the goal is to have students demonstrate higher order thinking skills.

Benefits and Challenges

Including an open book assessment as part of your course has many benefits. It can:

  • reduce test anxiety and requests for accommodation,
  • create opportunities for learner-directed discovery,
  • allow time for reflection, and
  • generate authentic tasks that reflect professional environments.

Meanwhile, there are also some challenges to consider, most notably:

  • concerns with academic integrity,
  • additional effort needed to develop effective questions,
  • time required for marking, and
  • increased challenges in scheduling.

How Best to Implement Open Book Assessments

Well-constructed open book assessments shift the responsibility for demonstrating learning directly to the student. In an effectively designed open book assessment, the instructor offers a clear definition of the task, provides the appropriate context, and ensures instructions are clear and complete.  So what do each of these look like?

Defining the Task

  • Ensure that there is clear alignment between the assessment and the learning outcomes for the course.
  • Focus the assessment on having the student analyze, evaluate, and/or create (high order skills).
  • Have the task present a contemporary, real-world problem for which students need to demonstrate application of their learning.

Providing Context

  • Provide explicit details of the task to be completed.
  • Present or direct students to any resources required to complete the assessment (e.g., course material, policies, articles, media).
  • Outline your expectations for student responses (e.g., use of resources, length of response, providing argument or explanation, referencing of resources, etc).

Giving Instruction

  • Include the release date and time.
  • Outline how much time is allotted to complete the assessment once it is started.
  • Present the approved materials that can use while completing the assessment.
  • Identify the word length.
  • Provide guidance on appropriate referencing.
  • Outline the format in which you expect to receive the submission.
  • Explain how to submit.
  • Give guidance on how to ask for help once the exam is released.

The Student Perspective

Students have misconceptions about open book assessments, and it is recommended that the instructor help address these and guide them in their preparation for the assessment. Much of this can be done through the clear articulation of the details and expectations for the assessment, but sometimes it is helpful to engage students in a discussion around the upcoming assessment.

Many students believe that for an open book assessment, they can simply copy and paste answers from a book or resource, that they can collaborate with others to get the answers, or that they don’t need to study because they can use their notes and course materials. This may be true if the assessment is a simple one that tests rote knowledge, but this is not the case for a well-constructed assessment. 

When talking to your students about your open book assessment consider these points:

  1. Describe the nature of questions and knowledge that they will be expected to demonstrate.
  2. Review expectations regarding citations and references (especially for take home exams).
  3. Provide an opportunity for students to ask questions and seek clarification.
  4. Review instructions for the assessment together and in advance of the assessment date.
  5. Discuss the technology being used to complete and/or submit the work, and encourage students to troubleshoot the technology ahead of time.
  6. If appropriate, offer tips or resources that can help them organize their materials and manage their time.
  7. Encourage students to practice answering questions under time constraints that will be similar to the assessment.
  8. Advise students to study!

Resources to Help Students Prepare

Designing an Open Book Assessment

When designing an open book assessment consider the:

  1. question type(s) to be used,
  2. level of challenge and competency, and
  3. use of case studies.

Questions Types

If offering an online exam with Brightspace, the decision on question types may be aided by knowing if you want the assessment to be auto-graded or instructor (manually) graded.

Auto-graded assessments require more set-up time, as the instructor must provide the correct answers (and possibly feedback) during the creation stage of the assessment. Most question types can be auto-graded, except for the Written Response. Short Answers and Fill In the Blanks can be auto-graded, but should be reviewed. 

Using the Quiz Tool in Brightspace

The quiz tool allows instructors to create a library of questions that makes it easier to set-up assessments and allows for randomization. This means that an instructor may create multiple versions of the assessment within one set-up. Randomization can apply to the questions being asked, and in some cases, to the possible responses that are presented. 

For more information on the quiz tool and randomization of questions, please visit CITL’s Brightspace Guide: Quiz Tool.

Level of Challenge and Competency

Depending on the context for the assessment, consider posing questions or scenarios that fall within the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Avoid questions that can be answered directly. Use questions that encourage students to think about AND apply what they have learned. Multiple choice and multi-step or problem based questions are particularly good for this. 

Case Studies

Engaging students in case studies is an authentic way to assess knowledge and understanding. They must demonstrate an understanding of the case presented, while being able to respond to specific questions. When designing case studies, it is important to provide all the necessary information, but not so much that you are directing students to the desired response. If used as a formative assessment approach you can scaffold the assessment by adding new information to the case as learning occurs. This requires careful consideration and planning.

For more information see Teaching Methods for Case Studies from Ryerson University.

Strategies to Encourage Academic Integrity in your Open Book Assessment

  • Contextualize the assessment to course and focus on the learning experience.
  • Frame questions so that the student can personalize their response.
  • Use open-ended questions to encourage higher-order thinking.
  • Use randomization or multiple versions of an assessment.
  • Consider allowing multiple attempts and recording the highest score.
  • Use a publisher’s test bank, but complement it with questions of your own.
  • Include opportunities for students to justify their answers.
  • Note citation and referencing expectations for the work (especially for a take home exam).
  • Ask students to sign an academic integrity pledge or use the first question on the assessment to acknowledge that they understand your expectations regarding academic integrity.

Example of a Possible First Question

I understand and will abide by Memorial University’s academic regulations. Specifically, I will:

  • not consult with classmates or other people throughout this exam,
  • not share questions or answers with others, and
  • use only explicitly permitted resources.

Student answers may be in the form of multiple choice (e.g. A. Yes or B. No) or fill in the blank: (e.g. I agree)

Note: The purpose of this question is to draw attention to the importance of academic integrity. Also, if you have suspicion of academic misconduct, you can use the student’s response to such a question as a conversation starter.


Resource by Daph C., Amy T., and Ruth H.