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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The grass isn't always greener: perceptions of and performance on open-note exams.

  • Author(s): Sato, Brian K
  • He, Wenliang
  • Warschauer, Mark
  • Kadandale, Pavan
  • et al.

Undergraduate biology education is often viewed as being focused on memorization rather than development of students' critical-thinking abilities. We speculated that open-note testing would be an easily implemented change that would emphasize higher-order thinking. As open-note testing is not commonly used in the biological sciences and the literature on its effects in biology education is sparse, we performed a comprehensive analysis of this intervention on a primary literature-based exam across three large-enrollment laboratory courses. Although students believed open-note testing would impact exam scores, we found no effect on performance, either overall or on questions of nearly all Bloom's levels. Open-note testing also produced no advantage when examined under a variety of parameters, including research experience, grade point average, course grade, prior exposure to primary literature-focused laboratory courses, or gender. Interestingly, we did observe small differences in open- and closed-note exam performance and perception for students who experienced open-note exams for an entire quarter. This implies that student preparation or in-test behavior can be altered by exposure to open-note testing conditions in a single course and that -increased experience may be necessary to truly understand the impact of this intervention.

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