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Online open exams

Writing and being analytical

It’s likely that your open book exam will ask you to apply your knowledge to a specific situation, rather than asking for factual information. Read the instructions carefully to understand what you are expected to do.

You may be asked to provide responses that are closer to short essays than one- or two-sentence answers. In this case, you will need to demonstrate that you can think carefully and critically about an issue, topic, or scenario.

Planning and writing

We recommend making a quick plan before you start to write a longer exam answer so that you can decide what you’ll say, in what order, and which examples and references you’ll use as evidence to support your points. Use your plan to note down the key points you need to make in order to fully answer the question. Keep the plan separate from your exam answer so that you can refer to it as you’re writing your answer. You can add more thoughts and ideas to the plan if anything occurs to you while you’re writing.

In an open book exam you can take time to add more detail and examples to illustrate your answers than you would do in a closed-book exam. Be strategic and focused when answering a question. You’re not expected to write down everything you know about a topic, but instead to give a clear and detailed answer to the specific question you have been asked. When you write your answer, address each key point in its own paragraph, using evidence and analysis to develop it further.

Take a look at our advice on writing in exams for more ideas about how to plan your answers, and find further advice about writing focused paragraphs on our essay writing webpages.

Analytical and evaluative answers

For longer essay-style answers, try to write answers that go beyond factual or descriptive information; write answers that are analytical and evaluative instead. This demonstrates much deeper thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the topics you’re writing about. Try to identify how the theories, models, formulae, policies or other key ideas you learned about apply to this new situation. You can try asking some of the following questions to help you think more analytically about the issues you’re writing about:

  • Are there any differences or similarities here, compared to how this theory/model/policy has been applied in other scenarios?
  • What would the consequences, effects or implications be and why?
  • Are there any specific benefits, disadvantages, or other impacts of the topics you’re talking about? What are they?
  • How significant is this benefit, disadvantage, consequence or impact, and why?
  • What’s the evidence for this?

You may be able to provide some of the answers to these critical thinking questions using information that you learned in lectures and other classes on your module, but you can always go beyond this and use other sources as well. Don’t forget to provide citations for the information or examples you include.

Look at our critical writing advice for more ideas about how to show your analysis in your exam answers.