FAQs about the DP open book exam pilots

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We have compiled the most frequently asked questions about the OBE pilot study in general and 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 participating in this study mean a school is a pilot school offering open book exams?

Not necessarily. The research study requires that the group of pilot schools allowed to offer open book exams is matched with a group of very similar control group schools that are part of the study but will offer the exams in the standard closed book format. How each school participates is agreed on a school-by-school basis and is documented in Schedule 5 of the Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC).

Do schools need to participate with all three pilots?

Each school has agreed to participate in one, two, or all of the pilot subjects, depending on the subjects they offer and the interest they have in participating. The research design requirements meant that some schools could not participate in the study as a pilot school, or not with all subjects they offer. This is part of the school specific agreement is documented in a MoC for each school on a school-by-school basis.

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 explores 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.

What is the minimum number of years of commitment required from the school in this study? Which student cohorts are included in the study?

The duration of school participation in the study is a standard full 2-year cycle to enable one cohort to experience the full two years of preparation.

In this study, most schools will offer two main exam sessions in the open book format, which allows the inclusion of a cohort of DP anticipated students and/or a cohort of students that are already in their second DP year. This design allows a pilot school to learn from the first session of offering the open book format and improve school processes and share their insights with IB which will inform the outcomes of the study. From a research perspective it also allows us to examine the impact of preparation length for OBE.

However, as indicated in the Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC), there may be reasons a school cannot continue, such as a significant drop in registrations for, or discontinuation of the agreed pilot subject, external circumstances impacting the school and learning, and so on. In that case the school must inform the IB immediately of any issues that arise that could impact the participation in the Pilot so that a mutually acceptable solution can be agreed.

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 of the expected exam session. 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. For all schools, withdrawal from the study requires a change in the MoC or signing the formal termination letter.

Will IB universities or examiners be able to distinguish between exams sat as open book and those sat in the standard closed book format?

No. Results for candidates taking part in the OBE pilot study will be issued in the same way and at the same time as for all other candidates. The certificate will not reference the format of the exam sat.

The exam scripts of all students in pilot and control group schools will be marked against the same rubric/markscheme and to the same standard as the work of all other students.  After the exam is sat, schools must the student work of exams sat in the open book format as normal. Pilot schools should take care not to attach or include copies of the permitted resource used in the exam to the student’s work. The resource is not marked.

The work of the students sitting the exam as OBE will be separately reviewed for grade awarding to ensure that the grades awarded are aligned with those awarded to all the other candidates, including those in control group schools.

If the students are using a book or other resources, 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.

Should the resource used by the student during the exam be attached to the exam script for marking?

No. After the exam is sat, schools must submit the student work of exams sat in the open book format as normal. Pilot schools should take care not to attach or include copies of the permitted resource used in the exam to the student’s work. The resource is not marked.

Will all students participating in the subject be involved in the pilot? Can a school allow some students without consent to opt out of the exam format offered at the school?

No, barring transfers and students siting retakes without preparation for the open book format, all DP students in the pilot subject will sit the exam in the exam format agreed with the school, 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 students will not receive invitations to the surveys or other data collection activities.

Transfer or retake students from a pilot school, registered by a school participating in the study will sit the same exam in the same format as the participating pilot school. Schools were these students are physically sitting the exam will receive the correct exam papers for these transfer students.

Is there a minimum number of student and teacher participants in the surveys required?

For research design reasons, schools with historically very small cohorts for a pilot subject have been excluded for that subject, as the study cannot accommodate self-taught or Pamoja students. However, there is no minimum number of students or teachers required to fill in all the surveys. Nevertheless, for the study to give meaningful results that will help DP students, teachers and schools in the future, we need as many completed surveys as possible. Therefore, we encourage schools to support the IB in engaging as many students and teachers with informed consent as possible to complete the surveys. Furthermore, in this study each completed survey contributes to a donation to a worthy cause to be chosen in each survey.

What is the format of the survey questions?

Students and teachers will be asked questions about each of the subjects they are involved in as part of the study, either Economics and/or Psychology, and/or Language A: Literature. The surveys predominantly use closed, often previously validated survey questions. There will be a minimal number of free text response options. Surveys have been designed so that participants will only be asked to complete demographic information once.

All surveys and materials have been approved by an independent ethics review board and classified as presenting “no more than minimal risk to the subjects”.

How many surveys will students and teacher be receiving over the duration of the study?

Teachers will get 3 surveys per exam cohort and coordinators will get 2 surveys per exam cohort.

Students preparing students for the November 2023 or May 2024 exam session will receive 3 surveys in total; Students preparing students for the November 2024 or May 2025 exam session will receive 4 surveys in total.

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

The study currently includes a cohort of pilot schools with a main exam session in November 2023 and 2024  a larger cohort of schools with a main exam session in May 2024 and 2025. Supporting materials for all types of pilots were provided to pilot schools at the start of the academic year to enable schools and teachers to familiarize themselves and adapt their teaching.

In February 2024, further resources have been made available to pilot schools only, using the experiences and materials developed during the first year of teaching for open book exam ending with the exams in November 2023.

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, with a final retake opportunity in November 2025.

What if the teacher teaching the pilot subject leaves? Can our school 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. 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 be invited to participate in the surveys and schools will receive clear guidance and information so they can support the new teacher   to maintain the integrity of the study.

Schools experiencing relevant staff changes during the study need to contact the project team at OBEpilots@ibo.org to ensure the teacher has the required resources and information, in addition to provide the project team with updated contact information.

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

The students in the pilot and control group schools will sit an exam that is also sat by other students. . 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? 

With such a large study, manageability is a concern. 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.

Schools offering both Language A Literature and Language and Literature course in the OBE pilot languages have been invited to become a control group school for the Language A Literature pilot study.

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.

How does the study take into account that some schools may not be able to provide students with their own (clean) copies for the Language A Lit pilot?

Schools that indicated this issue were offered to participate as control school. Their situation has been recorded and will still be included in the analysis.

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. Students 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 teachers 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.