Online Open Book Assessments

Open book, like all summative assessment, should focus on the interpretation and application of knowledge, comprehension skills and critical thinking rather than knowledge recall. There are many definitions and interpretations of “open book” as an assessment method, and even more so when open book-style assessments are facilitated online over digital platforms. You might call them “take home exams” or “24-hour assessments”, but regardless of what you call them, the concept is the same: students have access to key texts, reference materials, notes, revision aids, and the vast resources of the internet at their disposal while answering questions (no matter the time restrictions set for the assessment). This has obvious implications on the integrity and design of effective questions for such an assessment and requires the promotion of deeper critical reflection or analytical student responses as opposed to surface-level application of knowledge or basic recall.

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Top 3 Considerations  for Online Open Book Assessments


Existing exam questions designed for more traditional face-to-face exam hall scenarios may need to be edited, adapted or refined where possible, taking into account students’ access to various resources or how you might need to target higher order thinking skills (see Bloom’s Taxonomy image below). Not only does this provide opportunity for a more authentic assessment but also helps to mitigate risks associated with collusion or plagiarism.


Students should be given a clear rationale for the online open book exam and be informed of any updates to rubrics or assessment criteria based on any changes made to exam questions as well as exemplars, where possible. Past papers can be a useful guide to question styles, format and the mark allocation and can be used to practice question types.


Similarly, clear and unambiguous instructions should be provided to students on the completion and submission of the online open book assessment, along with details around expectations for online conduct/behaviour. Students should also be informed of key contact details in case of access problems or any other technical issues experienced during the assessment to reduce any potential anxiety or stress.

🔗 A Helpful Guide for Students

🔗 University regulations relating to academic offences and plagiarism

Blooms Taxonomy question starters showing higher order and lower order question types.

10 Tips for designing or adapting assessment for Online Open Book Assessment

Keep the intentional learning outcomes for your module up front and centre. Reminding yourself, “what am I assessing?” may help when making any proposed changes.

Ensure that the teaching and learning activities that have taken place (or that will take place) before the exam align with the learning outcomes (for more information, please refer to the QUB Handbook of assessment guidance and support 2020-21) – (see pages 15-20).

Remove any immediately obvious (and less obvious) “Google-able” questions from your exam. While there may be some form of knowledge recall required in your assessment, the aim should be on the authenticity of the response so think about how your questions can be re-framed or re-written to refocus on students’ higher order thinking skills, critical reflection, synthesis, or application of practical skills and/or core knowledge (see detailed examples provided from Trinity College Dublin from a range of subject disciplines).

Use context-specific case studies, case-based scenarios or distinct “compare and contrast” examples for students to respond to a unique problem.

Require students to write about or critically evaluate their personal experience (e.g. through a personal reflection based on a particular workshop or placement opportunity).

Where appropriate, require students to use digital tools or resources as part of the assessment (e.g. a digital source, document, website, application, map, etc.), taking advantage of the online environment.

Consider creating a tighter word limit for each question in order to limit the likelihood that students can copy/paste content into their answers, but also to ensure that you promote quality over quantity. There have been reports where students have written pages and pages for answers in 24-hour exams, simply because they had more time. Therefore, it’s important to explicitly detail your expectations for each question and share this in your assessment details. For guidance on word count, refer to the workload equivalence table on page 21 of the QUB Assessment Handbook 2020-21 . Also the following workload equivalence guide from Ulster University is helpful!

As with all content for teaching, learning and assessment, ensure the online open book exam is designed with accessibility and inclusion in mind, especially when providing assessment details as text documents for students to download and always ensure that your MS Word documents are accessible before exporting to pdf.

Consider the time allowed for the online open book exam. Limiting time significantly will mean that students may not be able to lean on additional access to resources too heavily. However, it is important to balance this out with ensuring that they have adequate time to complete the assessment and to allow some extra time for potential technical issues related to uploading their assessments (e.g., slow connection or poor-quality bandwidth). Many schools in Queen’s are running online open book exams based on an x+1 model within a 24-hour period. . Also ensure that extra time or a longer submission window is provided for any students who require greenroom accommodation or additional time and check school policy.

Where possible, allow students the opportunity to practice the online open-book exam by creating a mock assessment mirroring the submission requirements for the final exam (e.g., by setting up a mock assignment in Canvas under the same conditions they will experience at summative stage). Note that it is important to provide detailed instructions for students if they are required to submit documents or upload supplementary material (e.g. handwritten notes) through additional software like MS Lens.

Further Reading: