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Future Voices: Are open or closed book exams best for students?

PUBLISHED: 11:00 24 March 2017

Students in an exam room. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

Students in an exam room. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

A petition to authorise open book English Literature exams for 2017 has gained more than 100,000 signatures and will be considered by Parliament. But, are open book exams really the best way forward?

I can so vividly remember the seething rage I felt at the prospect of having to sit my English exams without the text in front of me, for the common belief that the exam board are testing your memory and not your ability.

However, now, having sat all of my GCSEs last year, I’m not convinced that open book exams would have been any better than closed book exams.

First of all, I think it’s important to establish that you will not lose marks if you do not remember the quote exactly as it is.

I never meticulously revised quotes for the exam because important quotes (or at least the gist of them) will naturally stick in your mind from reading and studying the text.

Also, it is often better to use very short quotes, even quoting single words is particularly effective and really easy to remember.

Despite what people may tell you, you don’t have to remember ten different quotes for each paragraph.

How you analyse the quotes is far more important than the number of quotes you use and, if you are clever, you will learn a quote which is relevant to a number of characters or themes.

Additionally, if students are allowed to take the text into the exam with them, there is little need for them to gain a really good knowledge and understanding of the text which is one of the things considered on the mark scheme.

It is this knowledge that has actually proven particularly useful now that I am studying A-level English because I have a wider understanding of a broad base of literary texts.

Personally, I think having the text in front of you will do more harm than good because you will waste so much time trying to look up the quotes you want to use.

If anything, I would argue that closed book exams are less stressful because, if you want to do well, it will force you to go into the exam prepared rather than frantically flipping through your copy of the text to find a good quote.

• Do you think open or closed book exams are the best way forward? Leave a comment below.

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