Open-Book, Closed-Book, or ‘Cheat Sheet’? Researchers Test the Merits of Different Exam Types

Like many faculty members, Afshin M. Gharib and William L. Phillips have strong preferences for giving certain types of examinations.

Both men, associate professors of psychology at Dominican University of California, have kept up a running debate on the topic. Mr. Gharib likes open-book tests because the scores result in a normal, bell-shaped distribution curve and do not stress out his students.

Mr. Phillips favors tests in which students can prepare a crib sheet with material from the course. He has held fast to the belief that the act of preparing a crib sheet produces an added educational benefit.

Most professors, they acknowledge, go with a third option, the traditional closed-book style, which many see as the most-rigorous of test types.

To help settle their debate, Mr. Gharib and Mr. Phillips conducted a study of their students. The results appear in their paper, “Cheat Sheet or Open-Book? A Comparison of the Effects of Exam Types on Performance, Retention, and Anxiety,” on which they collaborated with Noelle Mathew, an undergraduate student at Dominican. The article was published recently in Psychology Research.

They studied 297 students who took eight sections of an introductory psychology course and 99 students in four sections of a statistics course. Mr. Gharib taught the psychology sections and Mr. Phillips instructed in statistics. They used the same texts, assignments, and exams in each of their sections. <Read more.>

Via Dan Berrett, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.