Online Exams | University of Oxford
Open book exam
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Online Exams

This page provides information and advice for students taking open-book exams. For wider information for students about the impact of coronavirus, please see the student coronavirus advice page.

Read the Open Book Exams Guide for Candidates

If you are taking an open-book exam this week, you must carefully read the detailed Open Book Exams Guide for Candidates (PDF). Last updated Tuesday 19 January 2021.


An introduction to open-book exams

Oxford assessments usually take the form of invigilated, handwritten exams taken by large cohorts dressed in sub fusc usually in the Examination Schools or Ewert House. Open-book exams, on the other hand, are sat remotely by students on their own – usually in their own homes. Students are able to access their textbooks, notes and other resources. Once you have finished, you will submit your response in WebLearn. You will have slightly longer than conventional exams to account for the different format. 

While the technology is different, there are many similarities. The papers you will take will be similar in format, content, timeframe and required effort to what you were expecting – so a lot is staying the same. 

Watch the video below for a quick explanation of open book exams:

Some people worry that people who can type quickly will have an unfair advantage, but the examiners are interested in quality not quantity, and are not looking for longer essays than normal. You will also have more time than in conventional exams. Given the time available, typing speed should not be a major concern.

The level of referencing expected will be the same as in conventional handwritten exams. 


You will need to revise for open-book exams as you would for traditional exams. Although in theory you will have the opportunity of looking in books and searching the web, the relatively tight time window makes it highly unlikely that you will have the time to do this to any great extent. Instead, you will do best if you approach the exam as you would normally, revising in the usual way and spending the time in the exam focused on writing the best answers you can. This will quickly become apparent if you practise a couple of mock papers. Past papers can be accessed at OXAM.

Please refer to the Open-book exams guide for candidates for more details.

If you are feeling anxious, much of the advice on the Exam wellbeing and preparation page still applies to open book exams, so we would encourage you to look at this information. 

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

For closed-book exams online exams held at a University exam site, you must bring your personal mobile device (e.g. phone or tablet) to log into the exam platform (e.g. WebLearn or Inspera) using your Oxford SSO-multi-factor authentication app.

Once logged in you will need to switch off your mobile device and place this face down on or underneath your desk, as instructed by invigilators.

It is extremely important that you have set up your authentication methods in advance of any online exam. We strongly recommend you set up more than one method, as outlined below:

  • Set up one method on your mobile device
  • Set up a second the Authy authentication app, which can be installed as a desktop application and requires no admin rights

Full instructions on the MFA webpage.

What you will need on the day

You will need a computer with access to the Internet and your personal mobile device to log into the exam platform using MFA. If you are typing your exam, you will need to use Microsoft Word or an equivalent, and submit it as a PDF. If you are hand-writing your exam, you will need to be able to scan or photograph pages for submission. You will need access to your Oxford email account, SSO, password, and candidate number during the exam.

You should also have a quiet space with a desk, comfortable chair, and adequate lighting.

Please refer to the Open-book exams guide for candidates for more details. 

Create your own exam conditions

As you will be taking your exams at home, you will need to create your own exam conditions. Please take the necessary practical steps to be ready beforehand. We recommend that you have: 

  • A space which is quiet and free from interruptions, with: 
    • A desk
    • A comfortable chair
    • Adequate lighting
    • An internet-connected computer with Microsoft Word or equivalent
    • Heating or cooling depending on the weather where you are, as far as this is practicable 
  • A way to monitor your time, e.g. regular alarms to alert you 
  • Your books, notes, and other resources 
  • Your candidate number, single sign on (SSO) and password
  • Drinking water and snacks, etc.

Exam Timings 

Exam timetable

Exam timetables will be posted as usual on the examination timetable page. Your exam timetable will also be sent to you a few weeks before your first exam and will be accessible through Student Self Service at any point. 

Exam duration

Open-book exam durations will be longer than conventional papers. However, you are expected to spend the same amount of time as you would for a conventional paper on reading the exam paper, planning your answers and writing/typing them, with the additional time spent on working with the new format and technology (e.g. downloading the exam paper at the start).  Additional time will be provided for students who have approved alternative exam adjustments such as extra writing and/or rest time. More information on exam adjustments can be found on the Exam adjustments page.

Please refer to the Open-book exams guide for candidates for more details. 

Time zones 

Exams will start at 09.30 and 14.30 British Summer Time.

If you are in the UK (or in a country where the UK exam time is aligned with your local working day – see exam timings below), you will begin the exam at the UK start time.

If the UK exam time is outside of the local working day where you are, you should start at 09.30 local time. This will avoid the need to take exams during the late evening or at night-time. It may mean taking your exam the next day (in the same 24-hour window), if you are in a time zone ahead of the UK.

Penalties may be applied when marking your exam answers, if you start your exam later than the times detailed below and do not have approved alternative exam arrangements in place to start at different times. Please note these specific exam timings:

Exams starting in the morning in the UK

  • If you are in the UK, or in the time zones GMT+1 to +6

You should begin your exam at 09.30 UK time (and no later than 10:00 UK time)

  •  If you are in any other time zone

You can start your exam at any point from 09.30 UK time but must start no later than 10:00 local time (i.e. the country you are in when you take the exam) (this may be the day after the UK start time if your time zone is ahead of GMT). This flexibility is to allow you to sit during daytime hours, if that is your preference.

Exams starting in the afternoon in the UK

  • If you are in the UK, or in the time zone GMT+1

You should begin your exam at 14:30 UK time (and no later than 15:00 UK time)

  • If you are in any other time zone

 You can start your exam at any point from 14.30 UK time but must start no later than 10:00 local time (i.e. the country you are in when you take the exam) (this may be the day after the UK start time if your time zone is ahead of GMT). This flexibility is to allow you to sit during daytime hours, if that is your preference.

The existing alternative exam arrangement process remains in place for students needing to request an adjustment to their exam start time outside the scope of the policy above, for example if you have caring responsibilities which cannot be rearranged for your exams. Please contact your college for support with the alternative arrangements process.

A very small number of students, resident outside the UK, may experience a timetable clash, for example when starting a UK afternoon exam on the morning of the next day local time, followed by a subsequent exam scheduled for the morning UK time. If such clashes cannot be accommodated by the flexibility in the policy above, you may request an adjustment to your exam start time through the existing alternative arrangements process.

Note: The UK is currently in British Mean time (GMT). This is also known as GMT+1. To find out what time zone you are currently in, please use the Greenwich Mean Time website.

Please refer to the Open-book exams guide for candidates for more details. 

Illegible handwriting and blurred scripts

You are encouraged to type your exam responses for open-book exams.

If you are required or have a strong preference to handwrite your responses, you should ensure that your handwriting is legible and work is scanned clearly for markers to read.

You must follow the step-by-step instructions in the Open-book exams guide for candidates and practice scanning and uploading your work before your exams take place.

If illness or accident prevents you from being able to type or handwrite, and there is a member of your household who is prepared to act as an amanuensis, this arrangement can be accommodated as an alternative arrangement. Consult your college office to make such arrangements.

Plagiarism and collusion

In an open-book exam, you must submit your own work, without any help from others. When you take an exam, you will be required to sign up the University’s honour code. This confirms that you have understood and abided by the University’s rules on plagiarism and collusion. We will be making extensive use of plagiarism checkers, as we already do for submitted work, and we reserve the right to conduct follow-up viva voce exams to check students’ understanding of the examined material. We are also depending on students’ integrity. We regard integrity and honesty as central to the ethos of the University, and among the qualities of our students we value most highly. You will be expected to apply this to open-book exams.

Exam excusal

If you are unwell on the day of an open book exam, you may apply for excusal from the Proctors. Excusal can only be granted if the exam paper has not been downloaded. If you have downloaded the paper and then become ill, you cannot be excused but should submit what you have managed to complete. You can then submit a mitigating circumstances notice to the examiners.

Mitigating circumstances notices to examiners (MCE)

If you believe your academic performance has been seriously affected by COVID-19 situation and/or a medical or personal issue you can submit a mitigating circumstances notice to your examiners (MCE) via your college or your department if you are a non-matriculated student. For further details on how to submit a notice, please see the Problems completing your assessment page.

Complaints and academic appeals

  • Complaints concerning the conduct of university exams or circumstances that affected the teaching or tutorial support on your course - raise concerns with your senior tutor.
  • If, following such a discussion, you have a complaint about procedures not being correctly followed during an exam, or you have reason to believe that your exam was not conducted fairly, you may make an academic appeal to the Proctors.
  • Please refer to the Complaints and Appeals procedures in the University regulations.
  • If you are a graduate research student you should raise your concerns with your director of graduate studies.

Further information

Please refer to the Open-book exams guide for candidates for more detailed information, troubleshooting and reference guides.  All students taking part in an open-book exam this term must read this document carefully. 

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