The Instigator
Pro (for)
6 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Written Exams Should Be Open Book For Science Subjects.

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/27/2014 Category: Education
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 970 times Debate No: 64000
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (9)
Votes (1)




In education, written exams have existed for a long time. However, as time goes by, civilization has advanced so far that we now live in an age where information is of abundance and easily accessible.

The point is, as our technology advances, shouldn't our education evolve along with it?

I as Pro believes that written exams should all be open booked.

Round 1 Acceptance + Arguments by Con
Round 2 Refutal + Arguments by Pro, Refutal + Arguments by Con
Round 3 Refutal +Conclusion by Pro, Conclusion by Con.

Written examinations/test are tests that are administered on paper or on a computer. A test taker who takes a written test could respond to specific items by writing or typing within a given space of the test or on a separate form or document. These do NOT include laboratory test, oral test and other such test where additional steps are required (such as painting, dancing, performing, etc)

Open book involves allowing external material for reference into the examination INCLUDING text books, notes, notebooks, smart phones and etc. This does NOT mean plagiarism is allowed with or without consent from original author.

Science subjects include mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics.

BOP is shared by both Pro and Con.



A fundamental issue with the Pro case is that it is forgetting the entire purpose that one sits an exam to begin with.

I would like to explain my interpretation of an exam before going further into the formal definition of it.

An exam(ination), in my opinion, is a task one undertakes to display their ability to intake information over whatever the period the teaching or training period prior to the exam happened to involve. It displays much more than one's innate intellect but is, nonetheless, bias to those who are more structured and organized by nature and it is true to say that most geniuses end up loathing the education system for how rigid it is and how close-minded it ends up being however most people who fail in the education system are not those who fail to be challenged by it but rather are those either too lazy or those who are genuinely too distracted during the learning process to pass the examination. What is important to realize here is that Pro's system of examination will not analyze the science students' ability to intake information over a given period and reorganize that information into an organized time-restricted answer but rather will bias the entire process to those capable to intake information so phenomenally fast in comparison with their rivals.

Now is where I am going to more into the formal definition of exam and explain how the papers are even built in the first place to match the difficulty level of the qualification being earned:

For the formal definition of examination, I shall be referring to three different sites and be specifically using the written exam option from the available definitions:

“the act or process of testing pupils, candidates, etc., as by questions.”

“an exercise designed to examine progress or test qualification or knowledge”

“written exercises, oral questions, or practical tasks, set to test a candidate's knowledge and skill”

These are the three relevant definitions that I will confine this debate to. I hope that Pro agrees that we are not referring to some general 'examination' here but the specific time-restricted process by which one pursuing a science career of some kind gets their qualification that will later help them to be qualified for it.

While it would be true to say that, at the lower end of education, a written examination in a science subject is often a compulsory part of anyone of any career to pass that stage of education, Pro is including all levels of expertise here (I presume even Degree level) thus this is nullified by the fact that Pro is definitely referring to high school and above within the resolution's framework. Whilst I'd be happy to challenge Pro on basic-level examinations in science subjects, I will still be basing the majority of my case on examinations for those actually seeking to go further on to pursue a career involving science of some kind in it.

Let us take a typical science-related job such as a doctor, surgeon or nurse. All these jobs require people to go into work every day and use previously stored information, retained over a long period of study, and apply it to a task at hand. Furthermore, they do not simply answer questions in a correctly structured manner but actually have to use the answer immediately in cases where their capability to do so is literally the single factor determining one's survival. Open book exams do not remotely simulate the medical work environment as they do not test any of the skills people use in it. On the other hand, closed-book examinations require people to display that not only they can learn throughout a duration of one, or more, years, but can retain that information to such a level of difficulty that they do better than their rivals who presumably tried just as hard but failed to achieve the desired result.

Examinations work on a bell curve, the details of which can be found on this website []. This means that the better one's rivals of that exam do, the higher the grade boundaries are pushed (because presumably the exam was easier than it should have been). If it is a year where many do bad, it is assumed that the exam was harder than it should have been and grade boundaries are subsequently lowered. This does have a fault in that it doesn't take into account that one year there may literally be smarter, or dumber, people than the year before but it overall is how we ensure that the doctor administering your medicine is someone capable of doing so correctly. That is what it boils down to.

It doesn't matter if you are analyzing minerals which were extracted by machines designed by engineers who studied an entirely different science to you, you still need to use knowledge that you learned under pressure and retained to prove your worth as a capable individual to pursue such a career path to begin with.

The only possible counter argument to this that I would consider fairly valid is that those pursuing research careers in science do all of their jobs open-book. Nevertheless, I have a very good argument against this. How on Earth is one to even know what they are researching, or to even fathom what needs to be discovered, if they haven't got an extremely sufficient foundation of scientific knowledge on which to base their work? PhDs are already open-book and the qualifications below them are not for very good reason; PhDs are for those actually researching, lower qualifications are up to and including all basic knowledge that anyone who would want to research something within that field would need to know in order to know what needs researching and to also have a good memory bank of the failed attempts at discovering the answer prior to their attempt.

In conclusion, open book examinations fail to remotely test for the attributes that those seeking science careers would require and they also are severely outshone by the closed book examinations by fairness to those who compensate for slow learning speed by putting in that extra effort to gain knowledge in their own way. Open book exams are not only unfair to those who are slower instinctively yet capable of memorizing all the content by the examination since they make up for it via effort but are also totally insufficient at keeping those less able at science out and letting those more able at science through. Quite frankly, the only relation they have to the real world is those pursuing research careers but the lack of basic knowledge by the time they begin to pursue researching would almost definitely ensure a huge wastage of resources either investigating something that the person didn't bother to remember has already been tried and failed or investigating something the incorrect way because the person never actually understood how advanced experimentation is supposed to work and happened to fluke the exams by flipping back and forth form the index of the book in time to ace it.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you Con for accepting this debate. I will first start with refutals.

1. Con states "What is important to realize here is that Pro's system of examination will not analyze the science students' ability to intake information over a given period and reorganize that information into an organized time-restricted answer but rather will bias the entire process to those capable to intake information so phenomenally fast in comparison with their rivals."

Con assumes that students will not study for open book exams. As Con mentioned, an exam is a task one undertakes to display their ability to intake information prior to the exam. As there is a given period prior to the exam, students who are unable to "intake information phenomenally fast" will still have the time to study and prepare themselves. Pro in no way implies that open booked exams include zero prior examination period (such as classes, lectures and etc).

2. For Con's definition or examination, I will accept the first two. However the third definition provided by Con clashes with my definition that I mentioned earlier.

"These do NOT include laboratory test, oral test and other such test where additional steps are required (such as painting, dancing, performing, etc)"

3. Con's first argument uses the examples of science in the medical field. Con assumes that open book exams extends to practical examination. Note to Con, the topic of this is "Written Exams" and NOT "ALL EXAMS". In the medical field, the simulation for medical work environment are provided to students through the practical exams. Thus Con's point here is out of topic.

4. Con talks about the bell curve next which talks about the grading method for examinations. There is no stopping open book exams to be graded with the bell curve method too. Once again, Con went out of topic.

5. I will address Con's point on pressure during my arguments below.

6. Con questions "How on Earth is one to even know what they are researching, or to even fathom what needs to be discovered, if they haven't got an extremely sufficient foundation of scientific knowledge on which to base their work?" Once again, Con assumes zero learning/study period prior to exams. Con fails to understand that open-booked exams does not mean "no need to study exam".

Now for my arguments.

1. Age of technology.
In the past closed book written exams were preferred because it was difficult to research information. If a doctor needs to refer to a text book in the past, it would mean a trip to the library and back. I agree that this is most inconvenient for the doctor, thus the need to memorize for closed book exams. However in today's world where information is as easy as a flick to turn on a smart phone, why should science that works on advancing to the future, be stuck using methods from the past?

2. Understanding.
The greatest difference between an open book exam and close book exam is the method of study. Closed book exams usually have questions similar to the examples given in classes. Students tend to memorize and redo the same questions over and over again, not to understand them, but to memorize. Students will always check pass years paper and learn them by heart. But when you come out to the real world, the modern society needs not people who are like text books that can spew out information word for word. The science community needs people who are able to understand and think what those formulas and theories mean.

"Students used to study for closed book examinations by analysing past years’ examination questions, spotting likely questions that will be repeated, preparing for model answers to these questions and memorising them. However, all this changed after the open book mid-term examination. The students knew that unless they understood the concepts, they would not be able to pass the final examination as they would have no way to prepare model answers in advance." [1]

3. Bigger Learning Curve
Open-book exams promote a bigger learning curve in students. This is because students have less memorizing and more understanding to do. Take math for example. I believe you and I can do simple equations such as 4x5=20. You would probably have memorized 4x5 during primary school. But lets take a bigger number, eg 154x123. Why is it that we do not memorize such big multiplications? It is simply because the more we have to memorize, the slower it is to advance. The important part is to understand how multiplication works and you can come out with the answer no matter how big the figure is. Since open book exams promotes understanding more, it is possible for the lecturer to include more syllabus during classes compared to in closed book exams.

4. Cramming.
If you have taken written exams before, you would definitely be familiar with this term. Cramming is the process whereby students cram as much information as their brains can handle, only to vomit them all out during the examination. Cramming causes the brains to store the information in the short term memory which would defeat the purpose of education.

"When you are “cramming”, you are essentially reading a list of facts to yourself and trying to commit them to memory. Unfortunately most of these things won’t actually be committed to memory and will be forgotten in a few hours." [2]

It is possible to ace closed book exams by cramming. On the other hand, it is literally impossible to cram for an open book exam.

5. Adaptability.
Con mentioned "those pursuing research careers in science do all of their jobs open-book".
How does one prepare for an open-book job without doing open-book exams? Although the Internet is full of information, students need understand which information are right and which are wrong. Without researching and understanding the material in advance, it would be easy to fail an open book exam due to bad information as well as plagiarism. Open book exams trains students the ability to research materials and distinguish right from wrong.

In this respect, the open book examination is closer to the working environment where the employee has access to manuals and examples of past work to draw on. " [3]

6. Pressure.
I will now address my 5th refutal to Con as mentioned above. There is no reason to assume open-book exams are easy.. Take a physics paper for example. There could be multiple variables that makes it difficult. The value of gravity itself may not even be a constant 9.81 due to location and etc. Some variables may be denoted with a single alphabet. Some variables may even share the same alphabet [4](E can mean both electric field (N C-1) or Energy (J)). Angles can either be stated in degrees or radian. Unless the student prepares himself well, walking unto an open book exam would be disastrous. There are numerous ways a lecturer can modify an exam questions where unsuspecting students will be caught off guard.

"In the first part of this study, results indicated that unproctored, open book tests were not necessarily easier for students than traditional tests" [5]

To wrap up round 2, as Pro I have refuted all of Con's arguments. I have also provided proof of why "Written Exams" should be "open-booked" exams. Con has made a huge assumption that "open-booked" exams are easy and there is no study/learning period prior to the examination. I would like to remind Con that this debate is "Open-Booked" vs "Closed-booked" and has nothing to do with the lecture/lesson periods prior to the examination. I would also like to remind Con that "Open-Booked" exams does NOT mean plagiarism is allowed with or without consent from original author.



While I can understand how one may have ended up at Pro's interpretation of my arguments, it is fundamentally not what I was saying.

I am fully aware that people can study for open book but the bell curve and point about only capable people passing exams are what my key arguments were (which Pro misconstrued to be irrelevant to the resolution). The fundamental issue with open book exams is that incompetent people who can only learn fast but retain nothing will be scoring far high o the bell curve than closed book would allow them too. This has a two-fold effect. If open book enables a super-fast reader to gain 90% but a hard working guy to get 89% whereas in closed book the super-fast reader would get 10% and the hard working guy 89% (and the bell curve drops the hard-worker a grade thanks to the multitude of skim readers destroying him/her), there is a clear problem. What does technology have to do with this? Technology is irrelevant. An exam should mean that all those passing it whether they want to become the world's top neurosurgeon or a nurse, should be able to do that job by either taking their learning further based on how well they proved their ability to retain information. In science the ability to retain information is vital. There is simply no way that a doctor who doesn't have a knowledge of almost every disease and how symptoms combine will ever diagnose you correctly if you have anything but the first thing that appears Google. In addition, it is unfair to make patients pay, both in money and time, for a doctor who is just as stupid as them on the matter of medicine, to research the symptoms and then tell them what they already guessed it was instead of using their huge knowledge of all possible outcomes and then going through steps to pinpoint which one it could be. A quantum physicist couldn't survive a day at work if they didn't retain all that information over a long, long time. If companies hiring now can't even have grades as a factor to determine this and, even worse, may be turning down genuinely competent people because some skim readers outdid them via a method so contradictory to the skill-set required to survive in the science industry, this is detrimental in every way imaginable and thus less desirable than the system of forcing people who can't retain but can read super fast to do as bad as they deserve.

The entire point of science is to base what you have seen in the past and build on it, and evolve it into a new answer/theory as well as for most jobs, to regurgitate science on a daily basis either to diagnose patients (doctor) or to design a bridge (engineer). There a multitude if science jobs where being a regurgitating robot who can retain information and merely apply it to a situation based on principles form previous examples/questions is exactly what makes those who flourish in the profession as brilliant as they are. As for the more thinking-prone jobs where theories are formed, exams vary greatly in difficulty and there are a multitude of exams, especially at degree level, that require one to use a huge array of retained knowledge and rearrange it into an essay they could never have seen before because the examiners ensured it was a brand new question,even for the Internet. There is still no way to justify letting incompetent skim readers through just to fail the moment that they actually have to rely on retained information over their 30-40-year long career when at the end they are still flicking through page 100 searching for the answer to 'what is Zn?[1]'.

The point about pressure is that exam pressure, closed book, simulates the exact form of pressure that professions of science require their workers to undergo on a daily basis. One has to use memory in a time-constrained situation to find an answer based purely on what they already know. Googling and he likes only works if the person is then able to read the Google page and understand the terms on it instead of then having to Google every definition. Exam questions are overall simpler compared to actual work and while immediately converting a page into an exam answer can work, it won't help one in a science profession whatsoever.

I have no idea why cramming being impossible is relevant, in fact cramming for an open book exam isn't impossible but the skim-readers would outdo a crammer anyway as their natural talent to read super fast and convert it into an answer would artificially boost them up the bell curve while the crammers, who probably will do slightly worse than if they'd studied well, will have their retention of information not get them as high a grade in the end as their percentage ends up much lower on the bell curve thanks to manic readers outdoing them.

I said that the research is open book. However, closed book exams regard the foundation knowledge one must have to first working what to research and then how to research it. If one doesn't have a huge memory bank of what's already been researched, the mistakes that have been made and how to combine previous experiments to formulate the new one, they'll never be a good researcher to begin with. This retention of information is only testable closed book.

What good is a researcher who says 'hmm let me research why humans have sex' (or something far more complex) and then Googles it writes a whole essay on it and then says 'aw man it's already been done...' This is why skim reading gurus are useless in the science profession.

In conclusion, the evil of letting those more capable at retaining information end up lower on the bell curve than they otherwise would for the sake of allowing those incapable at science to boost their grades via a skill-set so irrelevant to those working in the science profession results in the resolution being declared false.


Debate Round No. 2


In my final round of this debate, I will only refute Con's points in round 2. I will not add any additional points or arguments. Thus here it goes.

1. Con did not state where he got his statistics.

2. Con assumes opened book exams are as easy as closed book exams. Con completely ignore my points 5. and 6. in round 2. Super fast readers do not necessarily have an advantage in opened book exams. Con also assumes that "fast readers" and "hardworkers" are mutually exclusive. As Pro, I would say that regardless of the ability to read fast, hardworkers will definitely score in exams.

3. Technology is most relevant in the science industries. Say an engineer is trained in machine A in his studies. But by the time he graduates, machine A has been improved to machine A2. Thus an engineer who is only good at memorizing, who is unable to adapt, would be unable to operate machine A2. And you cannot deny that in this modern age of civilization, our advancement of technology is overwhelmingly fast compared as compared to the past.

4. Retaining information is not the only criteria in the science field. The ability to continuously learn and adapt is just as important.

5. Cramming does not help to retain information. I have already addressed this in my point 4.

6. Doctors and engineers aren't regurgitate sciences. Take doctors for example. Each patient is different. Young patients would take less dosage of the medicine compared to older patients. Patients have different allergies that have to be taken into consideration. Designing a bridge as an engineer is very different from project to project too. Engineers have to take into consideration the site conditions such as temperature, weather, soil strength and etc.

7. Cramming is the process where students forcefully stuff their brains with as much information as possible without understanding them completely. Cramming is impossible in open book exams due to the fact that the information that students cram, are made available during exams. Thus cramming is useless in an open book exam.

8. I have already addressed that closed book exams do not directly correlate to memory retention. In fact, having a strong foundation of knowledge is to have a strong understanding of the subjects which is what opened book exams have compared to closed book. Thus thank you Con for agreeing with Pro.

9. Con mentioned "What good is a researcher who says 'hmm let me research why humans have sex' (or something far more complex) and then Googles it writes a whole essay on it and then says 'aw man it's already been done...' This is why skim reading gurus are useless in the science profession" which I believe implies plagiarism. However I have already addressed my opinion on plagiarism above. And opened book exam do not give skim reading gurus a great advantage over hard workers.

10. I would also add on that a good researcher should have the ability to take in research that has already been done and to add to it. Rather that to repeat the same experiments that have been done countless times each yielding the same results.

In Conclusion, open book exams have been proved to benefit the science community in this modern age of technology as it allows us to build quicker upon already existing knowledge. There will reach a time when the amount of existing knowledge will be too much for an average person to absorb fully without yet contributing to it. Thus open book exams lighten the burden of memorizing as well as strengthen the ability of a person to research. Thus open book exams are the only way to go.

Note to all: When voting, Con should not add new arguments or rebuttals in his final round. Thus please DO NOT penalize him on it. Thank you.


Imperfiect forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by Imperfiect 2 years ago
Wow I will destroy you little sly dog.
Posted by VelCrow 2 years ago
your turn :)
Posted by VelCrow 2 years ago
haha. yes.
Posted by Imperfiect 2 years ago
I think you meant short time.

Take your time.
Posted by VelCrow 2 years ago
works been a b!tch =.=
Posted by VelCrow 2 years ago
nice. was not expecting such a long reply in such a long time. how ever i apologise as i will take more time to digest and come up with a refutal. but fear not. i will definitely finish it within the time limit :) cheers
Posted by Imperfiect 2 years ago
It is now your turn. :)
Posted by Imperfiect 2 years ago
yes :)
Posted by VelCrow 2 years ago

wow that was fast. may the best man wins. :)
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Tweka 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:60 
Reasons for voting decision: ff. Pro has more sources and the argument is not refuted