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Simplify learning #5: Tips for writing open-book essays am 28. May 2020
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Themen: home-learning , simplify learning

Simplify learning #5: Tips for writing open-book essays

Some exams include open questions for which you need to write a longer answer. In this article we have compiled tips and advice on how to deal with this type of exam in remote learning.

The psychologist Ruth C. Cohn once said: “We have little time, so let us proceed slowly.” This also applies to writing under pressure: Prepare – Write – Revise.


Read the exam question carefully:

  • What is the question about?
  • What is asked of you?
  • How long should the text be?
  • What are the steps needed to answer the question?

Do you have to maybe read a text or research something, or can you go right ahead and start writing because you already have all of the information required? Organise your time accordingly and make a rough schedule. Also account for breaks and buffer times. Tackle the parts of the question first that you can complete quickly. In doing so, you can focus better on the more complex parts.

Structure your thoughts

Before writing, try assembling the main elements that need to be a part of the answer and structure them. There is more than one way to do this:

  • Brainstorming / taking notes: Haphazardly write down anything you can think of.
  • Cluster: Select a core concept that you can use as the starting point for associations.
  • Freewriting: Set a period of time (10 minutes) during which you write down anything you can think of. Afterwards, highlight the core concepts in colour. (You can already practise this exercise before the actual exam to get in the right mood.)
  • Have you prepared excerpts? This will save you a lot of time during the exam.
    Reread the excerpts and contemplate what the text can contribute to your answer to the question. What parts are especially interesting or relevant and what are you more critical of and why? With these considerations in mind, you might want to take another look at specific passages from the original text.

Structure your text

Before starting to write, decide on the structure of your text. Every text consists of three parts: Introduction – Body – Conclusion. Structure your text based on the central questions: Does the exam question specify certain topics? Write down the individual questions you will answer with your text.

  • Specify the topic of your text with one sentence in the introduction.
  • Answer the main exam question in the body.
  • Summarise the core ideas of your text in two sentences in the conclusion.


Studying remotely

Teaching at the University of Vienna will take place in the form of remote learning until presumably 30 June 2020 due to SARS CoV-2.

Information about what this entails and how we can make the most of the period of remote learning together is available on the remote learning hub for students.  



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