FAQs about the DP open book exam pilots

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We have compiled the most frequently asked questions about the pilot study in general and about the pilot subjects in particular to provide you with the respective answers.

Why Open Book Exams (OBE) and why run a pilot?

Open book exams offer the opportunity for:

  • more frequent and improved evidence of higher order thinking (application, analysis, evaluation and creativity)
  • reduced student/exam stress and anxiety, improved student well-being.

However, these positive results only follow if OBE is implemented well, which means that:

  • OBE is used when the assessment task requires a level of higher order thinking
  • students are well prepared, through practice and formative tasks in the classroom
  • teachers embed practice with reference aids and resource materials in everyday learning and teaching
  • schools have the resources to support teachers and students to create and/or access the appropriate reference aids.

Does registering for the pilot mean our school will be a pilot school?

Not necessarily. The research study requires that the group of pilot schools is matched with a group of very similar control group schools that will participate in the study but will not offer the exams in the open book format. How each school can participate will be agreed on a school-by-school basis and will be documented in a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC).  

Do schools need to participate with all three pilots?

Each school can decide to participate in one, two, all or none of the pilot subjects, depending on the subjects they offer and the interest they have in participating. There are criteria that may mean your school can or cannot participate in as a pilot school, or not in all subjects you offer. This is part of the school specific agreement that is documented in a MoC for each school on a school-by-school basis.

Can a pilot school withdraw from the pilot?

As indicated in the MoC there may be circumstances where a school is unable to carry on with the pilot. However, when a pilot school needs to withdraw, this would need to be discussed with the IB well in advance. A mutually acceptable solution will need to be found as a sudden change in the anticipated exam format may lead to additional stress in students as well as have a significant impact on the study and the outcomes.

Why is the study focused on high-stakes summative exams only?

IB Programme Development would like to introduce OBE for high stakes exams, which is why this pilot looks at such exams. During the study, data will be collected on the learning and teaching to establish the impact on classroom learning and assessment, this will be used to inform future decision-making regarding OBE for high-stakes assessment.

Why were these subjects chosen for the pilot and not other subjects (as well)?

Currently the OBE study will be one of the largest studies undertaken by the IB and needs to be kept manageable with data collection leading to interpretable results that will inform future decision-making. The selection of the subjects and exams for the pilot was made after careful consideration of suitability and the aims of the exams chosen.

Why are Mathematics or DP Science subjects not being piloted for OBE?

This study intends to bring insight into different types of OBE formats not currently implemented at the IB. Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry already offer a type of OBE in the form of formula and resource booklets, and therefore they do not need to be piloted.

Do second-year DP students expecting to do their exam in November 2023 and 2024 (or May 2024 and 2025) have the option for the OBE format in pilot schools?

Yes. The pilot for OBE exams will run for two exam sessions: the session immediately following the start of the pilot and a second session two years after the start. This means that in the first exam session, students who were in their second year of the DP course are offered the exam in OBE format – which may impact their exam preparation – as will students doing the pilot subject as anticipated candidates.

Will all students participating in the subject be involved in the pilot?

Within a selected school all DP candidates in the pilot subject will sit the exam in the assigned format, either OBE or as normal (CBE). This means that if students do not have parental consent but take the pilot subject in a school that has been selected to pilot an OBE, they sit their exam as an OBE. Lack of (parental) consent only means they will not receive invitations to the surveys or other data collection activities.

When will pilot schools have access to the materials - e.g. the types of OBE booklets/sheets that will be available in the OBEs - so they can adapt the teaching with them in mind?

The study is starting with a cohort of pilot schools in January 2023 (for November session schools) and September 2023 (for May session schools). Supporting materials for all types of pilots will be available from October or November 2022, to enable schools and teachers to familiarize themselves and adapt their teaching.

If the students are using a book or other resource, will they be given extra time for the exam? 

In this study, all students will be sitting the same exam for the same length of time. For analysis reasons we need to keep the comparison focused on the effect of the open book format only. If we introduce more time, we will not know if the change is due to the open book format or the extra time.

Will we need any specific technology or devices to participate as a pilot school?

Schools selected to be in the pilot condition for this study will not require any additional devices or technology to participate.

If our school would incur significant expenses (e.g. needing to purchase new books) as a result of becoming a pilot school, would these be compensated by the IB?

Unfortunately, not. If this is the case, schools can raise this as a reason to consider participation as a control group school instead.  

After the study period, will the OBE format be implemented in the pilot subject(s) for those schools participating in the study in sessions after May 2025?

No, the intention of the OBE study is to inform future decision-making regarding OBE and to bring insight into different types of OBE formats not currently implemented at the IB. Therefore, for now, this study covers four exam sessions only: November 2023, May and November 2024 and May 2025.

What if a student transfers from a pilot school to a school not offering the OBE format? Will they be able to take the OBE exam?

Unfortunately, not. The OBE format for the exam is offered at specified schools, and not to individual students. This also means if a student transfers to a school offering OBE, they will be offered the exam only in that format.

What if the teacher teaching the pilot subject leaves? Will our school be able to continue our participation in the study?

Part of the study will focus on the impact of OBE on the teacher and their practices. This data will be collected primarily with a teacher survey which ideally would be collected from the same teacher throughout the duration of the study. If you anticipate staff changes this may impact the option to take part in the study. We will be contacting schools on a school-by-school basis to determine whether and in what capacity a school can contribute to the study. However, the OBE pilot research team has considered that this may be a possibility and if this is the case the pilot school and new teacher will receive clear guidance on how to maintain the integrity of the study.

Will there be specimen papers, resources and teacher training to prepare us for implementation of OBE?

The candidates in the pilot and control group schools will sit the same exams as all other candidates in their time zone. Therefore, students and teachers can prepare for the OBE using the same specimen papers. The only difference to the exam will be that students will be able to access a specific resource during it. In preparation for the pilot resources and guidance for teachers will be provided before teaching starts. This will include everything that is needed to prepare students and to implement the OBE for the sake of the study.

OBE pilot subject-specific FAQs

Why is the Language A Literature pilot only available for English, Spanish and Chinese? 

The research study requires a minimum cohort size to ensure we have enough pilot and control group schools. Chinese is included as representing a non-alphabetic language.

Is it possible to participate in the OBE pilot for Language A with our Language A Language and Literature candidates?

Unfortunately, not. The pilot for Language A Literature focuses on the format of allowing students access to three literary texts. Language A Language and Literature allows non-literary texts to be used in responding to paper 2. For research designs reasons this would complicate the analysis and the results.

Schools offering both Language A Literature and Language and Literature course in the OBE pilot languages may consider participating as a control group school for the Language A Literature pilot.

Would a pilot subject currently offered as self-taught or taught via Pamoja be eligible for piloting as part of this study?

Unfortunately, not. It has been carefully considered and self-taught subjects and externally organized teaching are not going to be included in the pilots as this would add too much complexity and require a much larger (and complex) pilot to be undertaken.

Will the OBE pilot and the use of prescribed resources lead to changes in how and which texts are chosen to be taught in the Language A Literature course?

The way the texts chosen to focus on by schools and teachers will not change as a result of the OBE pilot. Candidates studying for Language A Literature are recommended to focus on three literary works when preparing for the exam. The autonomy of how schools and candidates decide on which texts to focus on remains unchanged.

For English A Literature, would the OBE mean students have access to the full range of literary texts taught in the course and would a school need to provide them with clean copies of these texts for the exams?

The subject guide recommends that candidates focus on three texts in preparation for paper 2. The Language A Literature pilot will allow students access to highlighted, but not annotated, physical copies of these three literary texts that have been studied in class.

Schools that will participate as pilot schools will receive clear guidance from the OBE research team on what will be allowed, and which editions will not be allowed.

What if we cannot provide students with their own (clean) copies for the Language A Lit pilot? Will we be unable to participate?

All schools who register interest for the OBE pilot will be considered for the study and how each school can participate will be agreed on a school-by-school basis after your expression of interest to participate and will be documented in a Memorandum of Cooperation. If the school is unable to provide each student with access their own copies for the Language A Literature pilot, and the students themselves are unable to ensure access to their own copy, the OBE research team will consider the options to ensure you are still able to participate, as your participation will be very useful and insightful for the study.

Will students be allowed to use digital resources during the exam including e-books?

Using E-books and digital versions of summaries in teaching is acceptable. During the exam, for academic integrity reasons, access to digital versions will not be allowed. Candidates will need to print the books or resources and use hard copies during the exam.

What kind of resource will be allowed for the DP Economics OBE pilot?

In the DP Economics OBE pilot, students will be allowed to use a self-created booklet of examples discussed in class. Teachers will be provided with a template and guidance on what is allowed to be included in the booklet and how to support students in creating and using the booklet in the course and during the exam.

What kind of resource will be allowed for the DP Psychology OBE pilot?

In the DP Psychology OBE pilot, students will be allowed to use a booklet of examples discussed in class. Teachers will be provided with a template and guidance on what is allowed to be included in the booklet and how to support students in learning to use such a booklet in the course and during the exam. 

Will students be able to create typed resources for their pilot subject? 

This is only applicable for the DP Economic pilot, and teachers will be provided with templates and guidance on what is allowed. Students and teacher may agree to allow using a typed version of their resources in the exam considering access and inclusion, as long as the resource abides by the specified guidelines on what is allowed.