A study conducted by two associate professors of psychology at Dominican University of California in San Rafael indicates that students may learn just as much from open-book exams as they do from closed-book tests, while experiencing less anxiety.
The results of the study have been published in the current issue of the journal "Psychology Research."
William Phillips said he and his colleague Afshin Gharib came up with the idea for the study while commuting to work together.
While most teachers at Dominican use closed-book tests, both men preferred alternatives, although they disagreed on which was the superior choice. Afshin had opted for open-book exams, while Phillips allowed his students to prepare two-sided crib notes for tests. Each thought their method produced the best results.
"So we decided to actually test the hypothesis," Phillips said.
They designed their study to weigh the advantages of open-book exams, crib note exams and closed-book exams in two different types of psychology courses. A total of 297 students enrolled in eight sections of Introductory Psychology and 99 students enrolled in four sections of statistics participated in the study.
All three test options were used in the Introductory Psychology classes. Only cheat-sheet and open-book tests were given in the statistics courses, however, because of the complex formulas involved.
Students also completed a questionnaire indicating which type of test they preferred, reported the number of hours they had spent studying for the exam and took a pre-test measure of test anxiety.
Two weeks after the initial tests, students were given a 10-point multiple-choice pop quiz to measure their retention of course material. No significant differences in retention was demonstrated.
"In all instances, in both the Introductory Psychology and the statistics courses, performance was the same on the pop quiz no matter the type of test the student had taken earlier," Phillips said. "There were no differences among the three types of exams in terms of retention of knowledge."
Another important finding of the study was that anxiety levels resulted in poorer exam performance. In both the Introductory Psychology and statistics courses, students performed slightly better on open-book than cheat-sheet exams. In the Introductory Psychology sections, performance was poorest for the closed book exam.
"We found exactly what we were expecting to find, that students taking closed-book exams have the highest anxiety, those taking cheat-sheet exams were in the middle for anxiety, and those taking open-book exams reported feeling less anxious," Phillips said.
The researchers found only a slight difference in the time students spent studying for the tests. For the Introductory Psychology students, the average study time was highest for cheat-sheet exams, followed by open-book exams and closed-book exams.
"Open-book and cheat-sheet exams do not decrease learning and retention of materials, do not decrease study habits, but do decrease anxiety levels," Phillips said. "Given the detrimental effect that anxiety can have on students, as well as the fact that retention of knowledge is the overall goal, it can be argued that closed-book exams and cheat sheet exams are superior to traditional closed-book tests."
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org ___