Closed-book Assessments

Anne-Marie Dade English
Traditionally, English students will respond to their study texts with said text in front of them, even if the text is blank/free from the annotations they have made. In anticipation of exams that may require students to complete closed-book exams (using only their memory), I decided to put my 8Q3 (mid-ability) students through such an assessment. As a class, we spent around 2 weeks studying a poem from another culture, using a variety of strategies and activities. Then, the students planned and completed the assessment and reflected on the process they had undertaken.
Poetry Storyboard_8Q3 Poetry
The students engaged in a range of exploratory and revision activities across five lessons in preparation for the assessment:
  • students produced a storyboard, charting the eight key moments of the narrative poem
  • students worked in groups to annotate the poem in detail, feeding ideas back to the class
  • group practice of PEED paragraphs, responding to the text
  • independent practice of PEED paragraphs, working on previously set targets
  • regular quizzes to test their knowledge of the poem
  • quote revision sessions, where students practised memorising the most relevant quotes
  • students produced a revision map
  • assessment planning session
In the assessment, students were able to access a PEED mat to help them start their paragraphs, but of course, this did not provide any clues as to the poem’s content.
Following the assessment (and before they received their grades and feedback), students were asked to reflect on the process.
All of them admitted they were incredibly worried about undertaking a closed-book assessment, feeling that they would never be able to remember any of it.
Interestingly, there was no one activity which the majority of students felt helped them most, so I am able to conclude that a variety of activities and revision strategies is the best way forward in meeting all student needs.
Finally, all students concluded that the assessment had gone smoothly and that in the end, they were able to complete the assessment without too many difficulties. Some of their comments are below:
Freya: ‘When doing the assessment, I felt confident that I knew all of the quotes and everything about the poem and if I did another closed-book assessment I wouldn’t be worried.’
Maria: ‘I felt fine on the day because I remembered all the quotes and was pretty proud of what I wrote.’
Connor: I felt confident with the assessment because we did so much work towards it. I would now feel confident doing a closed-book assessment again if we did that much preparation.’
As a teacher, I observed that the students’ confidence grew as the lessons progressed and they really enjoyed testing each other through the various activities. They all went into the assessment confident that they knew the poem and had a clear idea of what they could write about. Many surprised themselves with their memory skills and I think this was a huge confidence boost. In terms of assessment outcomes, it wasn’t obvious that students had completed the task closed-book, with accurate quoting throughout. As a whole class, students did not significantly slip or improve in terms of assessment data, thereby proving that closed book assessments are unlikely to be a cause for a decline in progress.


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