Keeping an Open Mind for Open Notes

Consider this situation: a new topic begins in your classes and you do your best to pay attention. It’s a new start and you’re given a clean slate to keep your grades up. You do the homework, ask questions, and even collaborate with other students to uplift and learn from one another. Sooner than you know, the time for you to “demonstrate your understanding” on a test creeps around the corner, forcing you into a study marathon that usually goes past midnight if you’re like any other American student. How often do you find yourself in this position?
With the end-of-quarter-test-taking-extravaganza that happens every couple of months, many overachieving students find themselves stressed about their grades. How are these students, who are doing their best to prepare themselves for their summatives, still finding themselves uneasy?
The way we demonstrate our understanding is outdated and only causes stress in already busy, anxious students. We can’t eliminate tests completely, as they are still a great way to show what students learned, so what are the solutions?
SHS should move towards making all tests open notes. Students, especially during the pandemic, tend to have lots of anxiety surrounding tests. The last thing we need to add to this is closed note tests. Students should be given the opportunity to use their resources to demonstrate their understanding. Though many educators believe that open note tests don’t provide an accurate gauge of understanding, one SHS course proves otherwise.
Biotechnology is a popular science course at SHS that offers open notes. With its varied curriculum and hands-on experiences, it has become one of the most popular science classes among SHS students. The class consists of multiple labs per week and an open note unit test at the end of each topic. The class instructor, Annette VanVeghel, has been teaching biotechnology for 23 years and argues that open note tests work for the biotechnology setting.
“Unit tests are open notes and have application-based questions based on laboratory activities,” VanVeghel says. “I have found that students like having all their class materials kept in [their] notebook and being able to use it every day.”
The 2020-2021 school year was one filled with lots of uncertainty. With students attending both in person and online, there was no way to monitor those at home. With all the stress in high-schooler’s lives these days, having the tools needed to succeed on tests helps students perform their best.