Do Open-Note Tests Decrease Test Anxiety?

It’s testing time at DHS. Teachers across the school’s campus are scrambling to prepare last-minute study guides, PowerPoints, and Scantron tests as the end of the year approaches. As the temperature outside goes up, so does the anxiety level in school. The amount of nail-biting, finger-tapping, heart-racing moments can be greatly reduced by how the teacher handles the tests and the bigger question of why can’t students use their notes?

Freshman Katie White experiences the two types of testing; open note tests in history teacher Ric Shahin’s class and closed note tests in biology teacher Christine Brillhart’s class.

“Honestly, I have no test anxiety in Mr. Shahin’s class,” White said, describing how she feels about the different types of tests. “I don’t know, but it also just may be the atmosphere of the room. I definitely have a lot more test anxiety in Mrs. Brillhart’s class, just because it’s also a harder class.”

Although she doesn’t automatically receive good grades on open note tests, she does prefer that type of testing.

“It’s certainly a lot more helpful to have [your notes] in front of you.”

According to many students, it’s a lot less stressful to have the crutch of the textbook, so why don’t some teachers give open note tests?

“Because at the point 3 level, students are supposed to master [the study material] to a level that they could apply and communicate back on the test,” Brillhart said.

Brillhart admitted that she does notice levels of stress before distributing quizzes and tests, but she offers multiple solutions to this problem that many students face.

“Reviewing notes more than the night before, making up a vocab sheet, [and making] flashcards are always good,” Brillhart said. “They do take a little time, but then you have them and can re-use them.”

She also suggests seeing the teacher ahead of time and asking questions during the tests.

What about the grades? Would they improve if the textbook was available to the students during the tests?

“The questions are going to be harder, and you’re not just going to find a definition in the book and it’s going to take a long time,” Brillhart said about tests where textbooks are available. “You’d have to know your notes and know the book so that you can finish the test in a certain amount of time. A lot of colleges might offer that – you bring all of your resources in, but you have a certain time limit and it’s not just going to the glossary and find the definition.”

This description is very similar to what Mr. Shahin does – puts more difficult questions on the test, and wants more in-depth answers than simply a definition. In his opinion, the part of the tests where the students interpret the question and come up with their own answer is much more important than any direct answers that they can recall from the text.

“I’m way more interested in seeing the responses for the interpretive part rather than the recall part, so if I can alleviate the stress about the recall part, I tend to get better responses on the interpretive part,” Shahin said.

According to Shahin, the students would get lower grades on the history tests if the textbook was unavailable. With the amount of material that students are expected to cover, it would be nearly impossible for them to remember the exact dates and years when important events took place.

Whether tests have a textbook available or not, the best advice that the teachers can offer is to know the material. This is very important to know when studying, so students should not think “Oh, this test? It’s open note. I don’t have to study.” This could have a surprisingly negative outcome.

Afshin Gharib and William Phillips, professors of psychology at the Dominican University of California, conducted an experiment on whether students’ grades improve on open note tests vs. closed note tests – the results were quite interesting. For more information, click here.

By: Nadia Fisher

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