How to prepare for Open Book Exams

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During exams, the idea of having open book exams is not only comforting but also very dangerous. You might think that open exams are way easier than close book ones, as you can use any of your notes, textbooks, checklists and flowcharts. In a sense, that is true. On the other hand, the fact that you have all this material available to you during a three-hour exam (or sometimes even less) can be a huge disadvantage when you’re not adequately prepared.

On Wednesday, I had my first open book exam ever. I was previously allowed to bring legislation books in an exam, but I was never put in this position before. At first, I thought that bringing my workshop notes to the exams will suffice, however it wasn’t too long until I realised that an open book exam is just as hard as a closed book exam. Why? Because there is a lot more preparation to make in anticipation of an open book exam. If there is anything you want to avoid, is to be folding through your notes, a textbook and the legislation book at the same time during the exam. It would only drive your crazy, enhance your anxiety and make you lose more time than you’re supposed to in finding the right information.

My preparation and revision for the open book exam included ticking off essential items on my ‘stay sane while revising’ checklist. The following tips are things that worked in my case and I cannot guarantee that these would be suitable for you as well. Don’t forget the basic rules in revision, before looking any further:

  1. Take breaks;
  2. Rest; and
  3. The sooner you start, the more prepared you are.

Anything further than these, it’s up to you to explore and see if they fit your lifestyle and way of revising.

The only things I plan on taking with me in the exam are: one folder with my personal notes (not more than 100 pages), the legislation book (for safety reasons) and an English dictionary (sorry ain’t sorry).

Personal Notes

I cannot say this any more often but your personal notes are your best friend in an open book exam. My way of organising my notes is very simple and effective, although for some may find this quite time-consuming. This brings me back to basic rule number 3: the sooner you start, the more prepared you are.

You would usually have seminar notes which you took during seminars or workshops. I’m studying LPC part-time, therefore I am not required to attend lectures – as such, I have no lecture notes.

The pack of personal notes is everything I plan to take into an exam.

I organise my personal notes using the following structure:

  1. Index of all headings used in my personal notes with page numbers for ease of reference.
  2.  Workshop content spreadsheet for each workshop. So let’s say that workshop number 1 is concerned with Directors’ duties. My content spreadsheet would be a list of all the statutory duties (with no further information), duties implied by the Model Articles or Table A and a reference to procedures for different types of breach of duties.
  3. The following pages would touch on the actual content of the notes, using structure flowcharts, checklists, diagrams, anything that helps in answering a specific person. Sometimes it’s easy to anticipate what the question relating to the subject can look like. For example, as above, if the subject is Directors’ duties, then you would expect the question to deal with a breach of duty, remedies for breach and ways for the Directors to avoid liability in the first place. By following this template, a procedure structure can be drafted, using stages and points to note for each. This will help you in making sure that you keep on track and touch on all the legal arguments which will bring you plenty of marks.

The above structure can be applied to any subject, so it’s not restricted to law exams. However, for additional support, I recommend the yourLPC guide if you’re studying the LPC at the University of Law. Whilst it is quite pricey, it considers all compulsory modules on the LPC and therefore, it will be your best friend during the course. The best part is that the booklet follows the exact template that I described above.  You can find more information here.

Legislation Book 

I tried tabbing my book. That’s insane. The amount of provisions that are relevant is overwhelming and it might take you days to actually complete tabbing this.

If you decide to go for the challenge, I suggest you categorise the subjects in areas dealing with different parts of the module and then attribute a different colour post-it note for each subject. This will help you keep on track and find the provisions faster than colour coding the Acts.

However, if you get bored within the first hour (just like I did), just tab the Acts. In the case you need to find a provision within an Act, it will only be a matter of seconds.

I will be honest and admit that I only opened the legislation book once during the exam and it was only for reassuring myself that I am referring to the right section. I believe that if you manage to structure and organise your personal notes in an effective way, there is no need to invest much time in the legislation book.


I cannot emphasise how important it is to understand the words in a scenario. Some questions use weird legal terms or jargon terms, specific to different professions. Even if English is your mother language, I would still advise bringing a dictionary. Better safe than sorry, right?

English is my second language, so I would never leave a dictionary at home if the University allows me to bring one!


Revising and preparation for open book exams are time-consuming, similar to any other exam. However, it’s a matter of attention to detail and putting the time into it in order to achieve that high mark! Everyone can do it, provided that the hard work is kept up to high standards.

I hope the above will help some of you out there lost in the wind. This is a two-way road though so I cannot wait to hear about your methods of revising and preparing for open book exams. Leave me a comment down below with your tips & tricks!

I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, you’re doing good. I’m proud of you.



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