Open book exams

Open book examinations allow students to take notes, texts or resource materials into an exam situation. They test their ability to find and apply information and knowledge rather than recall it from memory. In current circumstances, this approach has been adapted to allow students to undertake remote or ‘take-home’ exams since they are not taken in a secure environment on campus.

Moving this approach to the online environment will allow students to use existing materials to answer essay questions, respond to a scenario or solve a problem within a set timeframe.

Aims of open book exams

Designed to test higher-order learning, open book examinations should ask students to apply, analyse, synthesise, compare/contrast or evaluate information.  They should test whether they understand the “big picture” of the course and how course concepts work together. They test their ability to find and use information for problem-solving, and to deliver well-structured and well-presented arguments and solutions.

As a result, you should have higher expectations of the quality of answers and the extent of critical and analytical thinking, knowing students have course materials available to draw upon. However, answers may be shorter since students will spend more time retrieving information than they would do in a closed book assessment.

Available systems

The University has several systems for enabling open book examinations. 

Which system is most appropriate to use will depend on the format of the exam. The table below sets out the recommended systems for the most common exam formats. If your exam format is not covered please contact the Digital Education Helpdesk. 

Open-ended questions Closed questions
Only involves standard characters, the answer can be written on computer/device (e.g. essay question) Involves non-standard characters or diagrams (e.g.requires hand-written answer) MCQs Numeric answers word answers Programming
Flexible within 48-hour window Turnitin (best for essay questions)              Top Hat Pages (better for multiple short answer questions) Gradescope Homework or Online Assignment Top Hat Pages or Minerva Test Gradescope Programming Assignment
Time-limited within 48-hour window (note that this should only be used where there is a specific PRSB requirement) Gradescope Online Assignment No solution available Gradescope Online Assignment or Minerva Test No solution available

For a more detailed comparison of the functionality of each system please see this table.

Administering an online open book exam

The following guidance has been developed by the Programmes and Assessment Team (Student Education Service). Questions on this guidance should be directed to the exams team:

Online open book examinations in the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic session should be scheduled according to the start time in the examination timetable. Examination papers should be released to students via the module area in Minerva at the planned start time for the exam. This will provide clarity and consistency for students and ensure that the assessment load for students on interdisciplinary programmes is properly managed.

Students should have a minimum 48-hour period to complete the exam and submit via the assessment tool. Additional flexibility may be required for disabled students. Guidance to follow.

In exceptional circumstances in which there is a specific PSRB requirement, it may be appropriate to set a time-limited exam in which students have a specific period (e.g. 3 hours) to complete their exam once they start it. In these cases, students should be allowed to start the exam at any point during the 48-hour period to accommodate differing time zones and interdisciplinary deadlines. Disability adjustments must be made where appropriate. Schools taking this approach must the Faculty Assessment Manager.

Schools should ensure that there is a clear process in place to support timely responses to student queries, both on the content of the assessment and the logistics. It should be made clear to students at what times support will be available (including services and systems support). When planning this support, please consider students taking examinations in differing time zones.

Please see guidance in the table in Available systems above on the appropriate system to use for your online open exams.

Providing instructions for students

When setting an online open exam, it is important to provide students with clear instructions as to what is required of them. Students are likely to be unfamiliar with this form of assessment. For each exam, a rubric should be published which should set out clear expectations for how the work will be evaluated, such as:

  • the level of detail required,
  • the extent to which students are expected to consult additional resources,
  • the level of referencing expected,
  • a word limit, or an overall expected time to complete.

Exam rubrics should be published within the Assessment area in the Minerva module. Further guidance will follow on the advised wording to use when setting up online exams

Guidance for students on taking open exams

Skills@Library have created a new set of resources to support students during the exam period. These pages include advice on planning, revising and finding resources on our online platforms and maintaining their well-being.

Reading lists

If you are expecting your students to access texts for assessments, please ensure your reading list is up to date.  Use the Minerva Reading List Tool to update your list.  If particular texts are critical for a piece of assessment, use the speech bubble If you have any queries about your reading list.

Please update your lists as soon as possible.  There may be limits to the number of students who can access a text at any one time, so it is important to flag texts that you expect students to be using intensively over a short assessment period.  If you have any queries about your reading list, contact

Ensuring that open book exams are accessible

The University has developed a set of principles for the assessment of disabled students, and created guidance to ensure that online assessment is accessible to all students. The Principles of Inclusive Online Assessment also provide clear guidance on making online assessment inclusive.

As an educator, if you follow this guidance, for setting up open book exams from your School, you will be supporting all students to complete their examinations online.

For further guidance on how each system can be used to support online assessment, follow the links below.

The following documents provide some helpful guidance for academics on the design of online open book assessments: