You knew that you’d be taking a lot of exams in college, but you probably didn’t realize that you’d be taking many different types of them. Different professors prefer to test their students in different ways. Exams are nerve-wracking enough, so familiarize yourself with the different types you’ll encounter before you have to take them.
An open-book exam is pretty self-explanatory: you’re allowed to write the exam with all of your books open. That usually means you can bring in your notebook, textbooks, calculator—you name it. So when your professor announces that your exam will be open book, you think that you hit the jackpot, right? Maybe, but it’s more likely that your professor is testing your research skills. Law students, for instance, are very familiar with the open-book exam, but no one ever said that law school is easy. They can’t possibly memorize every relevant legal case, so their exams are open book. But unless they’ve studied ahead of time, they won’t know how to find the answers, even if the answers are right in front of them.
Some people love multiple-choice exams, and some people hate them. People who love them say that it’s nice to know that you have between a 20 and 25 percent chance of getting the right answer. People who hate them say that this type of test oversimplifies complex problems when many answers could be right. A good rule of thumb is to stop looking for which answers are possible, and look for the answer that’s best. Don’t be afraid to mark up the exam by crossing out every answer that’s definitely wrong. And if you’ve narrowed it down to two but aren’t sure, just pick one and move on to the next question.
Sit-down Essay Exam
Sit-down essay exams — sometimes called long-answer exams — ask you to perform a task over a period of about an hour that you’d normally perform over a period of weeks. As the name implies, you’re asked to write an essay during one sitting. This isn’t easy, but to make it a bit easier, spend a reasonable chunk of time writing an essay outline. You’ll write a much better answer if you plan it out from the very beginning, rather than as you go along.
Like open-book exams, students usually react to any mention of a take-home exam with great joy and exaltation. It is true that take-home exams give you access to every tool you have at your disposal. But keep in mind that the standards for take-home exams are much higher than they are for sit-down essay exams. Nothing is free in this world, and the academic world is no exception — the professor is giving you more time and resources to complete the exam, and they’ll expect higher-quality answers in return.
Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.