‘Both a blessing and a curse’: Lancs students react to open book exams

‘Closed book exams focus on skills that not everyone can learn’

As exam season is slowly creeping upon us, there is no better time than the present to cram in some revision. What we have experienced of uni this year is completely different than what we are used to, be it through struggling to connect to an online seminar, cursing every book on OneSearch or just lacking motivation to do anything really. Online exams are contested among many Lancaster students.

Abandoning the traditional way of assessment and trailing new exam formats has provoked a wide range of student responses. Some Lancs students have no exams at all, some have 24-hour ones while others, unfortunately, have a “normal” time limit on their exams.

So it is clear that some students will have a much more enthusiastic response to these changes than others. From our Instagram poll, we found that 77 per cent of students think that the online exam format is an advantage compared to normal exams.

Abbey – Third Year, Grizedale

Abbey explained to us that: “Open book exams are a much better format than their closed-book alternative because the closed book exams focus on skills that not everyone can learn. Not everyone has a good memory which is the main focus of closed-book exams, so therefore open books are better.”

She expanded on this, and said: “Open book exams tailor more to skills that we will use in the real world and future jobs as we will never be in a situation where we would have to write extensively about something without having all the information we would need in front of us”.

Alex – Second Year, County

Alex believes that: “Closed book exams are very antiquated and is essentially just a memory test.” He went on further to say: “This antiquatedness is very clear at the university level as the uni presses us into writing an essay on a topic, within a specific time range and this isn’t a test of our knowledge or understanding.”

Alex also said: “The work we are expected to produce in normal exam situations is a test of our knowledge retention, instead of examining our understanding of the topic.”

Katherine – First Year

Katherine said that she wishes that they were closed book, she said: “I haven’t sat a proper exam since my GCSE’s and I would’ve wanted to and test different revision techniques before I took exams that actually counted in second and third year.” Katherine sat an exam last year and she found that “sitting a 72-hour exam was very hard because there was no clear end to it as you could have your notes out and different resources at your disposal so you could go over everything and re-check your answer.”

Contrary to this, Katherine also said: “I would also like exams to be open book because it would be really difficult to revise the amount of content covered this year.” She explains that open book exams have their advantages because “you can have snacks while writing or drink something other than water to keep you fuelled.”

Sean – Second Year, Lonsdale

Sean thinks that online exams are “both a blessing and a curse.” He said: “Although I understand how important exams are in regards to testing our knowledge of our degree subject, I didn’t revise as much because they are online. Yet I felt bad for not revising, so it’s kind of a lose-lose situation.”

Sean went on to add: “Open book exams allow students to have their notes out in front of them while sitting the exams as well as being able to use the internet if we wish. This is something I have never experienced in any other exams that I have sat so I don’t really know how to feel about it.”

Meg – Second Year, Bowland

Meg explained that the “Physics department has the maximum time for exams, which is two hours and 15 minutes, with an extra half an hour to upload our work. I know that in other departments, this is not the case as they have 23 hours to complete an exam.” She pointed out that “the discrepancies between departments put certain people at a disadvantage. Most students aren’t going to spend the recommended time on their exams, but instead, take as much time as they wish to.”

Meg believes that this aspect is not fair as “us physics students only have just over two hours as a set time to complete ours.”

She said: “I appreciate that exams are open book, but we haven’t been given the time that would be needed to use our notes and complete the exam. Although it is not completely unreasonable by itself, when comparing it to other departments it just seems unfair.” Meg acknowledges that “grades will be scaled accordingly, but it adds a lot of unnecessary and additional stress to try and finish an exam in such a short time, especially when you are in an environment where there are a lot of distractions.”

Matty – First Year, Cartmel

Matty told the Lancaster Tab: “Open book exams are a good thing because if you’d want to find an answer for something in the real world, you’d just look in a book and not be expected to memorise it, therefore open book exams adequately prepare us for this.” He said: “Online exams allow us to get all the information we would need to answer a question and write a report, whereas timed exams don’t allow us to do this.”

Additionally, Matty said: “Closed book exams are a bad thing as it is essentially a memory test and people have a better memory than others so closed book exams are unfair.”

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