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OPEN BOOK EXAM: FRIEND OR FOE?

Author: Manvee Sharma, I year of B.A.,LL.B(Hons) from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.


The corona pandemic that struck the world in 2020 has not ended yet. In fact, the daily toll suggests that the situation is even worse than before. It has led to a dramatic loss of human life all over the world. It demonstrates an unusual challenge to health, education and livelihood. With people restricted to their homes for more than a year, many have undergone depression and loss of life.


The risks that are associated with this invisible enemy are plenty. It has even adversely affected the educational institutions and students. The classes for the students used to be conducted physically; thus, unable to function in their usual manner, the educational institutions and colleges have adopted an alternative to classroom teaching. They have started teaching online so that the students can continue their studies without any interruption and loss of precious time.

However, one arena that still needs some improvement is the implementation of better measures for the conduct of exams. Due to the spread of the virus, many entrance exams had to be either cancelled or postponed. Not only the entrance tests but also board exams and the regular college tests have been affected to a great extent.


One solution to this problem can be – Open Book Examination. Many universities have adopted this strategy for evaluating students. In fact, the DU conducted open book exams for its final year students in July 2020. However, the university faced a lot of criticisms on its decision, and interestingly, the majority of which was from the students. The reason behind this backlash was the misconception prevalent in India regarding open book exams.


This article is an attempt to enlighten the reader on the home-based exams and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.


What is an Open Book Exam?

An open book test is essentially an assessment in which a student is permitted to refer to his books, notes or some other approved reference material while the test is being conducted. So, basically, a student can sit with all his reference books and refer to them whenever required. These types of exams are quite common in law schools. Very rarely, they are utilized for other streams.


Thus, students are generally inexperienced and unaware of them.

In countries like the USA, this strategy has already been adopted and the exams in higher schools are open-book tests. However, this idea is at a nascent stage in India; though, there have been various discussions in the past for its implementation.


OBE are unlike the conventional learning approach that focuses upon rote learning and memorising the facts; they rather focus upon the analytical and critical skills procured by a student during the span of his course. By eliminating the remembering and memorizing portion, open-book tests bring out how much a student has really perceived the subject. Thus, it may be concluded very well that open book tests give a real assessment of how much a student has acquired during a course.


Teaching – as disseminating knowledge

In order to admire the benefits of open book assessment, it is all the more essential to comprehend the reason behind teaching programmes in general. Most of the people consider transmission of knowledge as the objective of teaching.


This approach aims at gathering maximum knowledge of the subject. The educator's job is seen as transfer of data from the course book to the child’s mind. What the student is required to do is comprehend this data, retain it, and puke it during the assessment.


Thus, in the light of the above approach , most of the conventional examinations are based on how much data or information a child has been able to store in his mind. Thus, in order to adapt to this demand, a student tries to memorise and retain the maximum data he or she can from the course readings, class notes, and textbooks during the examination. And his success depends upon his capability to memorise the data, how much information is stored and the efficiency with which it is reproduced.


Critical thinking vs. Rote learning

What sort of assessments would be practically suitable for this kind of educational program? Evidently, traditional memory testing assessments should offer a way to assessments that test the critical, analytical and intellectual abilities of the students. This is when the open book assessments come in.


However, if the purpose of an assessment is to test the data that students have memorized, open-book assessments are improper since students can undoubtedly copy the data in the reading material or class notes to the assessment paper.


Thus, if the assessment tests the abilities of analytical and critical thinking in that case, there is no harm in students referring to their course readings and class notes. This is because, in the end, the student has to essentially give his conclusion and comprehension of his idea of the topic, thus, repeating what the course book says would be futile.


In an open book examination, it is pointless to ask questions like “Who invented the telephone?” Or “What is meant by circular motion?" So, since all that a student needs to do is duplicate the important data from the reading material straightforwardly into the response sheet.


In a closed book assessment, the understudy first duplicates the data from the reading material to his memory, and afterwards, he reproduces it into his response sheet. This halfway phase of retention is the thing that open book assessments endeavour to dispose of. Given the accessibility of course books in the exam room, instructors won't pose questions that require the simple exchange of data from the course reading to the assessment sheet.


However, it can be argued that analytical and indirect questions can be posed even in closed book examinations. Thus, one might say that what matters is framing the right questions in the right manner, rather than going for open-book assessment.


However, this would mean living with contention rather than solving it. The basic difference between the two kinds of assessment is that the former can still be used to assess how much the student has learnt by heart or has memorised, while the latter can't. Thus, if we are not keen on testing remembered data, why opt for the conventional mode of assessment.


Conclusion

The impacts of open-book tests on teaching systems will be extremely profound. First of all, the kind of questions that are framed or posed in the tests need to be changed. They can't be like: "Write a short note on z", "Explain the term Q with the help of examples" and so on.


The questions should be planned cautiously and insightfully to test the student's knowledge and understanding of the topic and the ability of applying that understanding.


Provided that the sort of questions that would be addressed are changed, newer strategies are designed to train the students to answer those questions. It won’t be sufficient to reframe or paraphrase the already mentioned content in the textbook and deliver it onto the response sheet. Teachers will have to adopt activities that give mental exercise to students and enhance their thinking skills. Instead of the teacher talking constantly and students recording highlights, the classes will have conversations and questions.


Hence, open book examination establishes the genuine connotation of the word education for both students and teachers. Definitely, it would require both the teachers and the students quite some time to adapt and adjust themselves to this new mode of examination, but the changes are inescapable. When amalgamated with the method of instructing that focusses on reasoning abilities, they will make education and energizing and pleasant scholarly experience.