Ready to jump on the bandwagon?

The concept of open-book examinations may be slightly foreign in India, but it is one that comes with a variety of advantages.

Published - January 13, 2019 05:00 pm IST

In order to keep pace with the changing global trends and requirements in higher education, India is dynamically adapting to the challenges and opening up to embrace global practices. As a signatory to Washington Accord, India is slowly adapting to Outcome Based Education (OBE). All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) recently approved open-book exam for engineering courses.

Simply put, an open-book exam is one of the assessment methods for student learning, where students are permitted to use supplementary (text books, lecture notes, approved documents, even Internet resources) materials during the examination. In India, Gujarat was one of the states that earlier tried this idea of open book exam in 2008. Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board (GSHSEB) toiled the idea and said, exam are for testing students’ intelligence and not memory.

In an open-book examination, it is not the assessment or exam that is important, it is actually the perfect symphony of pedagogy and assessment that matters. Since the traditional exam focuses on the lower level skills of Bloom’s taxonomy, an open-book exam employs the higher-level learning skills for assessment. For a successful open-book exam approach, the traditional teaching methods where the teacher is lecturing and the students jot down, should be transformed into classes that will have discussions, questions, and other engaging processes. The process of teaching will no longer be a mere transfer of information from the teacher to the student without understanding, it will be the sharing of information that enriches the inquiring mind and rekindling the intellectual skills of the students.

We can treat an analogy about exams to computers. If someone asked, “Which is more important, is it the CPU or hard disk?”, it is difficult to answer. With a powerful CPU multiple processes can be done simultaneously; a bigger hard disk can store lots of information. Traditional exams are like checking the power of the hard disk. The success lies in how much data you can store and how fast you can retrieve it. There is no processing part (logical thinking/reasoning) involved. On the other hand, if we look at open-book exams, it is like checking the CPU and not the hard disk. Depending on the processing power of the student, they can effectively and efficiently solve the problem at hand. For a complete learning experience, neither can be of use when their counterpart is missing.

Popular myths

There are many myths about open- book exams among students. “If it is an open-book exam we do not need to study.” In fact, for open-book exams, you may need to study even beyond the regular prescribed books. “You can score high marks.” No, the difficulty level will be higher than the traditional exam, so it is not easy to score high marks. “You can easily and quickly complete the exam.” Studies have shown that the time required to complete an open-book exam is relatively longer than the stipulated or allotted time.

From the teacher’s perspective, they think it is easy to set a question paper. Unfortunately, making even a single question requires quite a bit of thought process. “It is easy to evaluate the answer scripts.” Sometimes, the answers can be as diverge as mountains and valleys. “It is easy to make answer keys and marking schemes.” In reality, due to the various approaches that can be applied to arrive at the required answer, evaluating answer scripts may take longer time and even the marking schemes need to be amended or modified to reflect upon various approaches.

Tips to succeed

The most important parts include time management and preparation. Be concise, accurate, yet thorough while answering. First, answer all the questions for which you have an answer. Then, attempt the difficult ones. Preparation can be the most successful yet least practised. Read elaborately and organise the learnings into small digestible chunks. It can include creating index cards, writing notes about important concepts, a summary sheet and so on. Finally, identify all the exceptions to a rule, law, theory or theorem. Questions are often based on these aspects.

Some of the reforms the open-book exam can bring include changes in pedagogical approaches, removing students anxieties about exams, creating great thinkers, imparting higher order learning skills, reducing dependence on rote learning, to avoid recycling of old questions. It will certainly improve the analytical and reasoning skills of the students to a greater extent.

In order to overcome some of the limitations of open-book exam, adequate time may be given to complete the exam. Depending on the difficulty level, the evaluation can be relatively liberal. Similar to percentile score used for ranking in many competitive exams, a relative grading rather than absolute grading will be an important aspect worth considering.

But barring a few short comings, open-book exams do not deprive the satisfaction what a teacher gets, when they come to know that the students had achieved mastery in the subjects they studied. From the student’s perspective, the benefits of such exams are not immediately felt, but they will realise the awakening of their quest to superiority later in their career.

The writer is Associate Professor of the School of Biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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