Open book exams for online summative assessment and feedback

Open book examinations allow students to take notes, texts or resource materials into an exam situation. Open book exams test a student’s ability to find and apply information and knowledge rather than recall it from memory.

Delivering open book exams online allow students to use existing materials to answer essay questions, respond to a scenario or solve a problem within a set timeframe.

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

Accessibility and inclusivity

The University has developed a set of principles for the assessment of students with disabilities:

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 students’ 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.

Selecting technologies

The University has several systems for enabling open book examinations. The most appropriate technology to use will depend on the format of the exam.

The table below sets out the recommended technologies for the most common exam formats. If your exam format is not covered please contact the DES Support 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


A detailed comparison of the functionality of each system is also available and can be downloaded at the end of this guide.

Administering an online open book exam

The following guidance has been developed with the Programmes and Assessment Team (Student Education Service). Please direct questions about this guidance to the exams team:

  • Examination papers should be released to students via the module area in Minerva at the planned start time for the exam.
  • 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.

This will provide clarity and consistency for students and ensure that the assessment load for students on interdisciplinary programmes is properly managed.

PSRB exceptions

In exceptional circumstances where there is a specific Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (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 contact the Faculty Assessment Manager.

Student queries

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.

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.

Ensuring key texts are accessible

If students to need to access specific texts for assessments, please ensure your reading list is up to date.  Use the Minerva Reading List Tool to update your list. Indicate on your reading list where a text is critical for an assessment.

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, please contact

Further guidance

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

Relevant Events

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This webinar will include a live demonstration of using Gradescope to manage and grade handwritten submissions for assessment, followed by an opportunity to ask questions.


This event is suitable for academic staff and PGRs who teach.


This event is suitable for academic staff and PGRs who teach.


This event is suitable for academic staff and PGRs who teach.