Midterms: open book v. closed book

maria-2012 Viterbi Class, Viterbi Life 0 Comments

I am glad that I have survived the last two weeks with 4 midterms back to back. But what surprised me was I still notice new ways about my engineering tests, they are distinctly different from taking other tests. It’s inevitable to get excited when one hears that a test is open book, however, most recently, I am noticing that it sometimes is better to have a closed book test, not only because closed book tests are somehow easier, but also that one of the biggest challenges in open book tests is the time factor.

One of my professors made a comment that during an open book test, our chances of getting partial credit on questions that simply follow the steps we have gone over in class is very small if we don’t get the final answer right. This argument is very legitimate if we are simply following something that has already been done before but now uses different numbers. However, this argument doesn’t take into account the fact that we spend time working on the problem even if it means copying the problem from our notes simply changing the numbers. However, one can also argue that this type of grading hinders such strategies of simply going through one’s notes during the test and figuring out which problem fits which question on the test. In this case, the true reason behind allowing open book tests can be justified, the reason being that engineers in the real world are not required to memorize all the formulae they will use in their field since they can reference to their books and manuals as they please. But these books and manuals won’t have all the problems the engineer is required to solve so he/she still needs to use their knowledge of approaching such problems and identify which procedures to follow one the approach has been finalized.

It was my Fluid Mechanics midterm that brought this self-actualization of open vs. closed book test. It was my first engineering test in college that was closed book/closed notes. After seeing how fast and time efficient a test taker needs to be while taking open book tests, I am still a strong supporter of open book tests because it still remains to simulate the real world scenarios we are required to work in, open book but with the new time constraint of deadlines.

Want to learn more? Here's the best place to ask: