The reality of the dreaded open book exam

June 15, 2017
Article Promo Image

There’s nothing quite like that crutch of knowing you can take your notes into an exam. But let us not forget, it’s still an exam, and with an exam comes a whole roller coaster of emotions. From complacency to sheer terror, I’ve tracked what you’ve either already felt, can expect to feel, or are tangled in the throes of right now if your exams are of the open book variety.

Complacency with maybe a lil bit of smugness

When you first hear you’ll have your notes by your side in your hours of need, it’s like Christmas. You spend your first few days of SWOTVAC smugly looking around at the plebs who have to actually memorise stuff. If you’ve got closed book exams, they’re taking priority, with the open book exam relegated to the back of your mind. It’ll be fine, you’ll just print off some lecture slides and take those in. Minimal effort required.

Dread with early onset of panic

So, a couple of days before the exam, you sit down and finally look at your notes. You honestly don’t remember there being this many, and yet at the same time you’re suspiciously sparse in the areas which your lecturer hinted at being on the exam. Plus a whole lot of those notes make zero sense; sure they’re in your handwriting, but you cannot honestly remember ever writing that let alone inventing this weird shorthand that seems to run through all your notes.

Misguided optimism and pure illusion of competency

After the first initial freak out comes self-soothing with a shopping trip. But because you still need to feel like you’re doing something productive, to Officeworks you go! Let go of any thoughts of what the exam is on and focus instead on what colour the topic feels like, because we all know colour matching is as important, if not more important than, actually knowing what the notes are about.

Annoyance and “Why does nobody understand me and what I’m going through?!”

Just when you’re starting to feel a little bit better about your situation, along comes the obligatory person commenting on how easy open book exams are, usually someone who’s never had one. It doesn’t matter that those were your exact thoughts mere days ago, you’re older and wiser now. You understand you’ll need notes in your exam because the ideas are just too complex to memorise unlike those inferior closed book examinees.

Unfortunately, the other students did not get that memo, and will repeatedly tell you that your exams must be so easy in comparison to theirs. Too bad you can’t throw your textbook at their stupid face, because you’ll need it in your exam.

Sheer terror

You’ve got 50 plus pages of perfect notes, but of course after reading the exam you realise only about two of those pages are relevant. Most of your exam time is spent in a frantic panic looking for that one fact/case/formula that is going to bring you that HD. You’re 100 per cent sure you included it in your notes, but no amount of tearing apart your folder is showing it to you.

While you may have looked crazy standing outside the exam with a textbook so big it can’t comfortably fit in your arms, and so covered in colour coded sticky flags it resembles a kindergarten, it’s textbook’s time to shine as you make use of the glorious index and find whatever obscure thing it is you’ve been searching for.

Anne Rathbone

Anne is a law student at Flinders University, who spends way too much time with her cat and not enough with actual humans

Image: Giphy