OPINION: Students should be allowed to use notes on tests and quizzes

When students write an essay, make a science fair board, or do their math homework, chances are that they have their sources or their notes nearby so that they can be sure that they aren’t misinformed. After all, if you have answers directly available to you, it would be ridiculous not to use them. Similarly, when taking tests, students should be allowed to look at the information they have in their notes.

One explanation for students being allowed to look at their notes during exams is that the entire concept of memorizing for tests is flawed. A student gains no new skills by committing facts to memory, especially considering that, according to the research of psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, students will forget the majority of what they commit to memory. He performed a test by memorizing a list of words, and 95 percent of the information was lost within just three days after the test. Making students study just to forget whatever they learned after the test is just a pointless waste of time and energy.

Of course, for an open note test, students should still study, but they should be less focused on memorizing facts, and instead prioritize their studying on understanding how to use those facts for proper application.

An additional case for students being allowed to use notes during a test is that it provides a better opportunity to measure a student’s ability to apply concepts in different situations, rather than just repeating the process back on to the paper. A student could look up the facts and concepts, but they need to be properly tested on whether they understand what those mean and how they apply to the class. This would also allow for teachers to make their tests more difficult, so that students might be graded more accurately.

Many teachers claim that open note tests are lazy, and that the only way for students to really understand the subject is to commit everything to memory. The problem with this claim is that –one way or another– students will bring notes into a test. A study done Rutgers University found that 68 percent of students admitted to having cheated on a test before, the implication being that even more of them just refused to admit to cheating. Since a majority of students won’t be recalling the answers from memory, it makes more sense to allow for students to bring in notes in order to prevent them from cheating.

An open note policy in tests and quizzes would allow for students to learn the skills they need to understand, rather than the facts they can easily figure out with one quick Google search. This would ultimately make school more effective at teaching its students what they need in order to be successful outside of school.