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While open-book examinations are less stressful, what are the challenges that students and faculty would face?

Published - September 14, 2019 11:43 am IST

Focused millennial Asian female student sit in shared coworking space studying with handbook writing do homework, concentrated teen girl make notes in workbook prepare for test or exam in library

Focused millennial Asian female student sit in shared coworking space studying with handbook writing do homework, concentrated teen girl make notes in workbook prepare for test or exam in library

It has been in the news that AICTE has approved open-book exams for selected subjects in engineering courses. Open-book exams (OBE) are less demanding when it comes to memorising, and thereby less stressful for students. This is the main objective behind this policy. This revised approach is intended to overcome the last-minute rote learning and memory test, unlike the traditional closed-book exams (CBE). Here are my views.

OBE should be introduced right from the school level. School teachers should give assignments such as writing an annotation, summary, poetry analysis or a critical appreciation, and so on, in their native languages. These steps will help students think differently about the assigned work and return with different explications. Assigned teachers must then sit and go through the different ‘works’ and discuss the interesting works in the class. They should make a logical conclusion based on all the ‘works’. This will help students get an initial input for attaining objective knowledge from the subjective input of text books. This is the main objective of OBE. Once satisfied with language subjects, school teachers could move on to other courses, especially science and math. In OBE, the tests focus on the fundamentals and concepts they have learnt and the way of approach or application that they learnt from a particular lesson or chapter.


In Indian engineering education system, written exams play a major role in assessing the learning and awarding of grades to the students. The highest weightage therefore goes to the marks or percentage of correctness obtained in CBE.

There must be conscious efforts to map the curriculum framed and the assessment done. These levels can definitely help budding engineers to aim for higher-level abilities which will go beyond remembering equations and definitions. They have to move to application, analysis, mathematical modelling and evaluation of the concept that they learnt from text books. The faculty must be careful and creative in framing the OBE questions. OBEs should not result in copying the answer from the text book and writing on the answer sheet blindly. The idea of OBE is to utilise the text book to refer, study and understand the engineering problem, find complex equations, variables included; formulae that are to be used, tables if any, relevant figures and maps and to find the parameter values if any. It should be used to test the application and concept of objective knowledge from the subjective understanding that was acquired in the classroom or by going through textbooks. Questions must be more conceptual than traditional descriptive pattern which normally starts with What/Why/Explain and or Define and so on. Students could correlate with fundamental theory, various concepts and calculations to come up with multiple solutions and logical conclusions. Faculty must help them choose the best solution/s or conclusion/s they come up with. By encouraging OBE, the standard of education can be improved by understanding the concepts, complex formulae or mathematical relations between different parameters or variables, applicability of the theory and knowledge.

The first step towards implementing OBE is by giving only numerical problem sets for tutorial, assignment and for quizzes. If the student understands the theory well, then, he or she could understand the problem asked. They will be able to reach a logical conclusion or final result just by doing lab works or modelling by simulations so as to establish the relationship between the result/s observed and scientific principle learned from text book/s or classroom lecture.

We need to be careful while designing the OBE questions, as framing such questions are quite tough and challenging for the faculty. As mentioned earlier, the questions here are more at conceptual and application level than traditional descriptive type questions.

The academic excellence of the faculty and the institute he or she belongs to, is critical for an OBE. In order to frame an OBE question, the faculty must be academically and technically advanced and should be aware of the latest developments happening in their domain or at least the courses they offer.

Alumini connect

In tune with the industry-institute interaction, it is important to promote alumni interaction with the institute. Only a few institutes give importance to the institute alumni cell and vice versa, former students. The faculty and junior students must invite the well placed alumni periodically, especially those alumnus working in the latest emerging technologies who can share their working knowledge and challenges they are facing/have faced, if any. This will definitely enable the faculty and students to focus on that particular technology by taking up new innovative projects or even start a new research. This could aid them in understanding the concepts and application better and do open book assignments, projects, case studies and internships, to make the students internationally industry-ready. (It is one of the main objectives of National Board of Accreditation (NBA) India).

The views expressed here are the authors.

The writer is Dean UG (Studies) & HoD ECE Rajadhani Institute of Engineering and Technology Tiruvananthapuram

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