Exam Strategies: Open Book and Take Home Exams

Open Book and Take Home exams don't need to be scary and you can prepare for these unique exam opportunities too. We have three key strategy areas to help you excel on your next open-book or take-home exam.

Check out our Student Reference Guide; a fillable tool you can use to make finding your information even quicker during open book or take home exams

What to Expect
  • Less recall, more "big picture" questions.
    • Your professors will be looking to test your ability to understand and explain larger concepts. This could be through displays of understanding (ex. summarizing, explaining, interpreting), applying (ex. using information in a new way), analyzing (ex. compare/contrast), evaluating (ex. critiquing, examining, defending), or creating (ex. design something new, proposing a plan).
  • Syllabus as compass.
    • Your course syllabus will outline the learning outcomes and goals your professors have navigated and addressed throughout the course. Use this as a compass of the likely topics they will want to see you show knowledge about.

How to Prepare
  • Review exam expectations.
    • Make sure to note the exact date, time, format, and location for submission. If it is an open book exam, verify if it will be done in-person or online. If it is take home, verify how you are expected to submit the exam and be familiar with that platform. Finally, confirm if the exam is expected to be completed in one session or if you are allowed to work on it over a few sessions.
  • Clarify the type of exam questions.
    • It is important to know if the exam will be multiple choice, problem based questions, or essay questions. Knowing the type of questions can help you prepare your study notes for review.
  • Prepare your resources.
    • Know what resources are approved for use during the exam; note those which may be prohibited. Review course syllabus for any materials that the professor requires, recommends, or promotes.
  • Make your notes make sense.
    • Organize your resources in a meaningful and comprehensive way for quick reference during the exam. Consider having tabs, specific highlighter colors or icons for themes of information, creating concept maps or organizational charts for information, creating a master formula reference page, and even embedding reference information within your notes of original resource used.

What to Avoid
  • Time loss.
    • Know the exact length of time you have for your exam and compare this to the number of questions on your exam. Create benchmark times to allocate to each question. Then begin with those questions you feel most confident in answering. For example, if you have a 60 minute exam with six questions, you have 10 minutes per question and will start with your most confident answer. Any extra time gets put into the time bank to be used on your upcoming questions.
  • Not reading your exam questions.
    • Don't rush through your exam, read the question thoroughly and make sure you understand, a) what the question is asking, and b) how it wants information presented.
  • Academic dishonesty.
    • Be sure to maintain academic integrity by using your own words and paraphrasing when completing questions. Also, paraphrasing allows you to pull in multiple sources at once and create large statements personalized to you.
  • Not studying.
    • Open book and take home exams need the same preparation as closed book exams. Review your notes from the semester and start creating your exam resources. Aim to understand your course's information to the level you could teach it to your peers during a group study session.
  • Not being familiar with the technology.
    • If you are completing an online exam, double check you are comfortable with the exam platform and/or how to submit your exam. Additional help and live support chat is available on the CITL Student Resources website.

Open Book Test : Student Reference Guide

Having all of your resources to use during an open book or take home exam can feel overwhelming instead of helpful for some students. Consider using our Student Reference Guide to create a clear path between the key concepts/themes/topics you studied and the resource you learned it from. 

Looking for more strategies and tips?
Check out MUN's Academic Success Centre online!


Center for Instructional Technology and Training. (n.d.) Bloom's taxonomy. University of Florida. Retrieved November 21, 2021 from https://citt.ufl.edu/resources/the-learning-process/designing-the-learning-experience/blooms-taxonomy/

Silverman, R. (2021, April 19). Exam preparation: Strategies for open book exams. Simon Fraser University. https://www.lib.sfu.ca/about/branches-depts/slc/learning/exam-types/open-book-exams

Trent University. (n.d.) Preparing for an online, open-book exam. Trent University. Retrieved November 21, 2021 from https://www.trentu.ca/academicskills/how-guides/how-study/prepare-and-write-exams/preparing-online-open-book-exam