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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Open Book Tests

By ccarlstead on Flickr with Creative Commons licence

In October I wrote a post about allowing students to take in notes to exams. The idea was students would hopefully spend some time before the test preparing their set of notes, at the same time revising the content without even realising it. I was planning on using this method with a group of thirteen year olds, who are at an age where they need to understand the importance of doing a test properly because for the next five years at secondary school they will be having tests more often than they actually have a proper lesson, such is the educational system in Spain! However, these kids are actually this - kids. They may be taller than me but inside they are just beginning to step away from childhood. For this reason, I don't think allowing them to prepare notes would be of any help. They know what grammatical structures will be in the test, but do they know how to make notes? Has anybody shown them how to make a good set of revision notes? No. At school nobody teaches them study techniques. They mostly just have to memorise facts and even large chunks of information word for word. Unless I show them myself how to create a set of notes and how to focus on the most important parts, they will have difficulty in doing so successfully.

So, I am going one step further. We are having an open-book test.

The test they have is fairly long and is based on the grammar and vocabulary we have been learning this term, with a writing stage for early finishers. As I said in the other post, I'm not a big fan of tests, but this class is quite lazy (I know, it's their age) and I'm hoping that having a test will help them focus more. They are so used to testing that if we don't have one they seem to think that the class is just to doss around in (for those of you who didn't live in the UK in the nineties, "to doss around" means "to spend time doing very little or being unproductive").

Anyway, they will be able to use their books to help them do the test. However, they won't have time to look up everything in their books. In any case, the test questions are not reproductions of tasks in the book, so they will have to find the approriate section. If they have to choose between the Present Continuous and Will to talk about the future, they can read the grammar section (in English) on that to remind them of their uses before doing that particular exercise. If they can't remember the spelling of a vocabulary item, they can find it in their book to double check.

One of the other reasons why I'm doing this is to reduce stress. I didn't want the learners to be worrying about the test, or hurriedly studying five minutes before the class and getting all nervous. Allowing them to use their books means that everyone is relaxed about doing the test and sould hopefully be more successful - essential with this age group.

I do plan to allow notes as mentioned above in the future, but with older students and when we have some time to discuss how to create these notes.

I shall report back tomorrow on how today went!


  1. Hi Michelle, I love this idea of testing the studens and allowing them to have their books open. I can imagine it took away a lot of the stress. You're so right about Spanish students being so test-oriented and I really liked the bit about them seeing the class as a bit of a doss if they don't get a test. I've been looking at ways I can give my students a test and, although we're not using a coursebook this year, we have covered a lot of grammar areas, so I may put together a grammar test and give them some kind of grammar reference to help them. Thanks for sharing and for the fantastic idea :)

  2. Thanks Paul!
    I think giving your students some kind of reference materials will work well, especially if it includes example sentences. I think the amount of time they are given to do the test is important - they should not be able to look up everything as that would make the test fairly redundant. I do think that having reference materials available takes away a lot of the unecessary stress students feel during exams. In the real world we are surrounded by oportunities to find information if and when we need it, so why shouldn't our students?
    Thanks for commenting!


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