“Closed Book”

By Professor Matthew Festa

What should you do if your exam is not going to be, well, “open book”? My 1L exams are often “closed book”: students may not be allowed to bring their outlines, books, or anything else into the exam. If this is the case for you, what should you do differently throughout the semester, and in exam preparation?

My answer is: not very much. A closed book exam generally tests the same things on the same law as an open book final. You should still read all the cases, participate in class, and do an outline. Why bother with an outline if you can’t bring it in to the exam? Because, as Open Book points out, creating the outline isn’t as much of a goal as it is a process—it’s a fantastic way to learn and reinforce the substantive knowledge. Because of the time pressure of an exam, most people find that they never have much of a chance to use their outlines anyway (or if they really need to, they probably aren’t prepared).

As with “easy” exams, most everyone would prefer an open book exam, but I have found in giving closed book exams that the students sometimes learn more law. So don’t feel disadvantaged if you’re taking a closed book exam. Remember, it’s closed book for everyone else too. More importantly, while there may be some differences at the margins, I think you should approach those classes in generally the same way. Even if it’s “closed book” for you, follow the advice in Open Book, and you’ll be prepared.

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