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Designing open-book take-home assessments

26 Nov 2019


Designing open-book take-home assessments

This newsletter is about designing open-book take-home assessments that students do in a non-Blackboard environment.  For the design on online assessments on Blackboard, see EDC Newsletter ‘Assessing Students Online’ at


Considerations when designing open-book assessments

1.      Questions should test students’ understanding, synthesis, and application of knowledge rather than the ability to find relevant information from course notes, books and online sources.


2.      The focus should be on more than just doing (e.g. calculations) but also explaining (i.e. testing understanding).


3.      The answers to open-book assessment questions should not be readily found in any open source but be derived from what students have learnt.


4.      Questions should evaluate students’ critical reasoning and analytical skills rather than regurgitation of information.


5.      Questions should be designed to test students’ achievements of the relevant intended learning outcomes.


Considerations when delivering open-book assessments

1.      Similar grading integrity requirements, such as plagiarism check via Turnitin, should be followed as in other continuous assessment tasks to assure assessment fairness.


2.      Make sure the time allocated for the open-book assessment is realistic and reflects the difficulty level of the questions.


Ways to design open-book assessments


1.      Use problems that require thinking, understanding and application of knowledge, and references to academic sources, e.g. journal articles, academic books and publications.


2.      Ask students to provide innovative solutions that require lateral thinking.


3.      Give students real-world scenarios and cases and ask them to critique them, with reference to theories and other cases learnt in the subject.


4.      Ask students to interpret data (quantitative and/or qualitative) and discuss their implications.


5.      Give students two-part questions, e.g. part 1 requires calculations and part 2 requires explanations of the calculations.


6.      Set questions that require students to make comparisons that are not available in books or online.


7.      Require students to evaluate concepts and ideas, and conclude which one is the strongest/weakest, and why.


8.      Ask students to examine causative relationships, explore factors, expand ideas, explain reasoning and discuss limitations.


9.      Probe understanding, skills and knowledge, and require thoughtful reflections.


10.   If appropriate, use multiple question types, as usually practised in a typical written exam that usually contains short questions, long questions, and/or MCQ so that it is more likely all students are given an equal opportunity to fully demonstrate their learning in their answers to various types of questions.


11.   (continued from point #10) Nevertheless, each question should be specific enough to avoid plagiarism. 


12.   Consider recommending a page range or a word limit for the answer to each question as a way to indicate to students the expected work or time to be spent.


Notes on communication with students


1.      Write instructions that are clear and explicit, e.g., clarify whether students should complete the take-home assignment without help from others or they can work with classmates.


2.      Let students know that the open-book assessment does not mean no prior studying is required. 


3.      A take-home assignment is not necessarily a direct replacement of the original exam.Depending on the nature of the questions, a take-home assignment may take more time or less time to complete. Students should understand a take-home assignment may last longer or shorter than a normal written exam period, e.g., two hours, without having any consequences on the integrity and fairness of the assessment.    


Assessment rubrics


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