Open-Note Testing Could Work In Our High Schools - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Aria Saines

Aria Saines is a freshman at Punahou School.


At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, schools were forced to convert their classes to online platforms or completely shut down.

Prohibiting students from learning on campus poses an inconvenience for teachers without experience in integrating digital elements into their usual curriculum, and the challenge grew when it was time for educators to set up quizzes and exams.

Preventing cheating on an online setting is complicated, so teachers arrived at a simple and practical solution: open-note testing. This approach requires students to assimilate ideas and make connections, necessitating mastery of the topic being tested.

Many educators have made the switch to open-note testing after discovering the qualitative effects on students’ learning behavior.

The National Institute of Health described some curricular issues, such as the increased focus on memorization as opposed to the expansion of a students’ analytical, conceptual, and reasoning skills. The American Association for the Advancement of Science highlighted the importance of reshaping the method used to approach STEM education, showing that students taking open-note exams are more likely to prepare for tests by critically evaluating the subject, and collecting information from multiple sources.

As a result, they establish a better comprehension of the material.

Despite students’ assumptions of the supposed performance advantages of open-note testing, it was found that there is no difference in the test scores of those with or without this method. This is due to the higher level of difficulty produced from a more rigorous test, which would offset the advantage of having open notes.

Per contra, it was learned that the students using notes were able to answer written questions based on application more thoroughly. The study concluded by stating that the students’ metacognitive skills and use of information was heavily altered by the use of open notes.

Like the other pedagogies being introduced to schools, the stature of open-note testing must be made clear to students as well as parents. For science classes, quizzes will be more dependent on analysis and the interpreting of data, rather than deceiving multiple choice questions.

‘Higher-Order Thinking’

It is often confusing to students when teachers explain the importance of critical thinking and the connection of concepts “on a broader level” while being given a test that asks when Charles Darwin was born. Of course, knowing Darwin’s birthday may yield three points to Gryffindor from the Harry Potter books, but in the real world the internet would be utilized if one were to come across this perplexing question.

Allowing students to use notes will encourage teachers to design more insightful questions that focus on higher-order thinking.

Educators often promote the success of good note takers, but taking meaningful and efficient notes may be presented as a challenge for students who were never given time to implement it. Given that much of the content students learn in class becomes outdated within 5-10 years, skills that are conducive to “lifelong learning” should be reinforced.

The Association of College and Research Libraries highlights the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” While some may not see the significance in note taking, analyzing information through the use of resources and applying them to finish a task is an indispensable tool.

Internalizing the multiplication table is useful and necessary, while needing to memorize 100 theorems and equations for an end of the year exam is egregiously impractical. This method is not the best way to test a student’s mastery of material. Scientists and engineers are not restricted from using computer software, calculators, and instruments to verify their calculations.

It is imperative that educators and students take a forward-thinking approach.

These tools help establish accuracy, which is critical for all professions. Knowing the information is one task, but applying it to multiple situations is another difficulty that students commonly face from the increased emphasis on memorization.

The coronavirus will alter the way we live, and affect every aspect of our daily lives going forward. Given the high level of importance of education, it is imperative that educators and students take a forward-thinking approach and seize upon the opportunity to update an old model.

If college professors and the AP exams this year allow open notes, then what is to stop high schools from doing the same?

Open-note testing is not a free pass on studying, nor does it guarantee you a high score if correctly implemented. As the fall semester approaches, classrooms should generalize this approach in both online and on-campus settings.

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About the Author

Aria Saines

Aria Saines is a freshman at Punahou School.


Latest Comments (0)

To take it a step further, project based learning is much more effective than tests. Tests often require memorization and hypothetical application of learned concepts. Projects (the good ones anyway) require actual application of learned concepts. Some subject areas lend themselves better to projects than others, but I believe it's still possible for all teachers to implement projects in some way.Books (the concept of them, not necessarily the content) are out-dated.There will be some benefits relative to education reform following this pandemic to be sure.

basic_citizen123 · 1 year ago

Real work in real life is open notes. This is even more true in an online society where the entirety of the world's knowledge is just a Google search away. It makes no sense to continue plodding down this path of requiring students to memorize and regurgitate facts, as if we needed a society full of Jeopardy contestants to keep the world running.But I don't think we'll ever escape this loop because we are inherently lazy and collectively want to walk the path of least resistance. It's just easier to reduce the entirety of every student's abilities down to a single GPA/SAT score representing an aggregate of multiple choice and true/false answers. (Students may be graded on essays as well, but those are just assigned points based on some formulaic checklist that the grader runs through to see if the essay highlights all the key points.)

AveLaRusso · 1 year ago

Great article!  I'm sure teachers will cringe; however, it is possible to develop even open-notes multiple choice tests that require understanding rather than simply regurgitation.  In grad school, the class I took on testing used only multiple choice quizzes and exams--but there were not many questions on each one, because it took a lot of thinking to get the right answer!

JusticePlease · 1 year ago

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