The Non-Open Book Exam

In law school almost all exams are open book, meaning that you can bring in anything you want to the exam short of another person. Some exams might be restricted open book exams where you may be able to bring in your own materials or your casebook but not any commercial outlines or anything else. Then there are two other species of exams: take home exams and closed-book exams. Both are deceptive creatures.

In my first year my constitutional law exam was a 48 hour take home exam. This year I have a 24 hour take home exam for one of my classes. Last year my professor told us that liked take home exams because he didn’t want us to be writing under pressure and that he preferred reading answers that had been thought out rather than typed in three hours or so.

We didn’t quite know what to do with our take home exam last year. Two days to answer three questions in 10 pages total. It seemed like a piece of cake. But no, there are one of two problems with a take home exam (or at least one that is more than 24 hours) that may afflict you.

First, procrastination is the name of the game because there is no pressure to get it done in a short period of time. I’ll do a little bit now and then a little bit later, you will tell yourself. Or, I have plenty of time to do this. Not so because the end of that 48 hours will arrive sooner than you think.

Second, you may find that you become disturbingly obsessed with your exam during the exam period. Perhaps I should be working on my exam instead of eating? What if everyone else is working on their exam right now and I’m not? I need to re-write this section because it makes no sense. Oh wait, let me re-write it again, and so forth.

This year I also had a closed-book exam, meaning that we couldn’t bring in anything except our computers and a pen into the exam. Law students have a tendency to faint at the mention of a closed-book exam because it means they can’t have their security blanket with them (outlines, commercial outlines, case book, horn book, etc.). Note, you will soon find that law school is just like high school: mass hysteria runs rampant.

But it’s really not so bad. Think about it: in high school and college you were never allowed to bring anything into an exam and you obviously survived that. You’re typing for so long that you don’t even really need your outline. Additionally, professors know that if you’re not allowed to bring anything in they’re not looking for you to be able to write about obscure little details (nor would they be for an open book exam).

In the end, an exam is an exam and you should probably try not worry about the format and concentrate instead on learning and applying the material.