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Notes or no notes: why some classes allow notes during exams

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Study Notes

College professors at Oklahoma State University are allowed to decide whether or not to allow notes and other resources during testing. Professors have many things to consider when making this decision. Chemistry professor Allen Apblett does not allow any outside resources during tests.

My experience as an undergraduate was in a reaction kinetics class shared with engineers who begged the professor to be allowed to use a “cheat sheet.” The professor gave in and the exam was made extremely harder,” Apblett said. “As a professor, I need students to learn the subject matter of the class. When they need the information in a subsequent class or for a test for a professional school, notes will not be available.”

Other professors allow students to utilize both physical and online resources. Biology professor Luke Hoekstra gives tests virtually and allows students to use their notes.

The switch to virtual learning after Spring Break 2020 necessitated virtual exams. On such short notice, remote proctoring was not a viable option. This left open-note exams as one of the few options, especially for large classes.” Hoekstra said.

Another testing factor to consider is testing location, for some virtual tests there is no specific location or time while for others, tests are proctored and at a set time. There are many different factors professors need to consider when it comes to assigning tests.

“Virtual tests are much more convenient for me,” student Samantha Blehm said. “I work a lot so it is much easier to just take the test when I can find time as opposed to scheduling around it.”

Professors have to also consider students' reception to their testing policies, for their third midterm exam, Hoekstra's students averaged a 77.3% and Apbletts averaged a 45.3%. Some professors see the idea of learning as separate from just letter grades.

“If you give the same test with and without notes, you might expect the students to do better with notes, but faculty experience with that is mixed. Notably, with notes, I would be testing reading comprehension skills more than chemistry skills,” Apblett said.

Students have mixed feelings about whether or not notes should be universally allowed for every test, but there are too many different factors and different classes require different testing policies.