Exam types might not determine student success

By Elizabeth zinchuk

Some students might think a cheat sheet or open-book is the best way to get an A on an exam, but one study suggests that might not make the grade.

The Psychology Research journal recently published a study that found students who take an open-book exam score better than those who take exams that allow cheat-sheet use. However, it also discovered students who fare well on either type of test, or even a closed-book exam, will excel on any of the three testing types, disproving that the type of testing matters.

While the study suggests the exam type is irrelevant, several students and staff members agreed all three types of exams have respective positives and negatives.


Psychology assistant professor Chad Drake said having a textbook open during an exam makes a student more comfortable. However, he said a cheat-sheet has limited information compared to a textbook, which usually applies to more on any exam.

“The textbook contains all the information the students need, whereas the cheat sheet may be incomplete in some matters,” Drake said.

Drake said the fact that students who perform well on either exam type will do well on any type of exam makes the study seem questionable. He said it is suspicious because the information seems to make the study contradict itself.

“It makes you wonder about the methodology of the study and what was all done in a well-controlled fashion,” he said.

Even though open-book exams give students an advantage, a university tutoring center academic coach said she would prefer her students to take a closed-book exam.

Madalyn Gillis, a sophomore from Edwardsville studying general management, said she aids students’ studies until exam time.

“When you take a closed-book exam and do well, you know you actually learned and retained something instead of having to refer to a book or cheat sheet,” she said.


However, Gillis said the students she helps have less anxiety when taking an open-book exam versus a closed-book exam.

“They can easily go back and find the answers often with a open-book exam,” she said. “They feel like they don’t have to study as much.”

Gillis said she advises students to study as much for either type of exam and to start studying at least a week before it to break up studying tasks.

While the study indicated students who excel on one form of test will perform well on any kind, several students were not surprised that students fare better on open-book exams.

Blaire Troester, a junior from Harrisburg studying social science education, said she expected the study’s results. A cheat sheet might lack the necessary information for questions students did not anticipate to be on an exam, she said.

“The students don’t necessarily know what is going to be on the exam and, therefore, what exactly to all include on the cheat sheet,” she said.

Troester said students shouldn’t rely on the textbook, but it can be beneficial if there are a few questions they are stumped on.

“Hopefully (students) studied for the exam and they can go through and answer all that they know, and with the (questions) that they don’t know, they can go back and look in their textbook,” Troester said.

KeShon Adkins, a junior from Chicago studying radio-television, said he found the study to be interesting because he finds many of his peers prefer to use a cheat sheet versus an open-textbook exam. Adkins said he prefers the open-textbook exam.

“I think you have a better chance on getting a passing grade with an open-book exam out of any other exam,” Adkins said.

Adkins said the cheat sheet won’t be much of a benefit if students thoroughly study for the exam.

“It doesn’t really matter if you have a cheat sheet or open-textbook, if you are pretty much prepared to take the exam and if you did the proper studying then there shouldn’t be a problem or even a need for a cheat sheet,” Adkins said