Open Book Examination: How and Why

Open book examinations should be practiced. Image source: The Quint
Open book examinations should be practiced. Image source: The Quint
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

The assessment stands as an integral part of the teaching-learning process, and we assess our learners directly, indirectly, in the classroom, outside the classroom, through their written scripts and unwritten attempts and even we can do it by asking them to open their books and answer the questions either orally or in written. We need to show our response to education as per the necessity of time and the prevailing situation. For instance, open book examination could be a solution for online assessment.

The Corona pandemic has engulfed the entire globe, and it has forced our educational institutions to keep closed, and students keep away from their known and adoring places of education. However, different alternative ways such as open book examination and means have emerged to address this current education crisis. Evaluating the learners has come up as a big challenge in this crisis moment. So, the teachers and faculty have been striving to find a way out.

Evaluation is also a rational act, and we need to resort to new methods to evaluate the students. ‘Open Book Examination’ comes before us as one of the alternatives to assess our learners. Many educational institutions across the world have used this method to conduct exams even before the Covid-era, and I can remember our teacher’ Tahmina Ahmed, who used to teach us P.B. Shelly (Jahangirnagar University) and one of our tutorials was conducted by her following’ Open Book Examination System’ a pretty long time ago. We were asked to find out Platonic Love, romantic elements and imageries from Shelly’s poems. Creative teachers thus apply creative methods to teach and evaluate learners of all ages and in all territories.

Open book examination allow students to take notes, texts or resource materials into an exam situation where their ability to find and apply information and knowledge is tested. They attempt answers without help from others, and the exam is returned within a specified period.  But questions should be developed so that answers cannot be readily extracted from the materials/textbooks; rather, students have to answer the questions in more analytical and critical ways that promise to exhibit their high-order thinking skills.

It also tests students’ ability to quickly find relevant information and then to understand, analyze and apply knowledge while thinking critically. Answering the questions will require more than just copying information from texts. How they locate, apply, and use information is more important than obtaining grades or marks in this type of examination.

Open Book Examination calls for extra efforts from students to solve questions as it would mainly be of higher-order thinking, and each student needs to have a random set of questions so that the scope of cheating remains absolutely absent. The students would stop studying and simply copying from the open book provided at the examination hall.

A scenario may be presented to the students that describes a realistic workplace and situation, and they will be asked to carry out a series of tasks using evidence presented in the scenario, as well as the underpinning knowledge they have gained through their studies and participating in the classroom or online class` activities. It is suggested that teachers should prepare questions that ask `What?’ `Could?’ `How?’ Why?’ and `Where?’ To assess what they know, what they can dowith that knowledge. This practice is not uncommon in law examinations, but in other subjects, it is mostly unknown. The teacher’s role is viewed as facilitating the transfer of information from the textbook to the students’ minds.

The student is expected to understand this information, retain it, and retrieve it during the final examination. Based on the above approach, most conventional examinations test how much information the students have been able to store in their minds. In order to cope with this demand, students memorize the information in-class notes and textbooks and transfer it to answer books during the examination. In this type of examination, success depends on the quantity of information memorized and the efficiency with which it is reproduced.

In the traditional or closed book examination, students usually copy the information from the textbook to their memory, and then copy it into the answer book. So, they have developed the culture of storing as much information as they can in memory, and their success also depends on the amount of memory. This `Open Book Examination’ will emancipate them from this drudgery.

As the modern concept says, education should be a pleasurable activity, not a painful drudgery, and we definitely believe that what is learnt with pleasure is learnt more effectively and retained better. The rationale of such an examination is a reasoning rather than recalling the facts. Students have to consult various sources, such as textbooks, classroom notes, online blogs, to sit for such examinations.  This helps them interrelate the concepts, acquire knowledge in a more creative approach, and discourage rote learning. It also reduces their fear, anxiety, and stress levels, which negatively influence the learners’ test performance by diminishing working memory resource availability.

The suffocating environment that we have experienced since March 2020 has seriously caused education loss to our learners of all levels. To continue the efforts of keeping them in touch with education, this proposed ‘Open Book Examination’ can heal the ills already ingrained in their mind and behavior due to closure of educational institutions, lockdown, rising death rate, rapid infection and unrest. This type of examination also promises an interaction between teachers and learners.  We cannot disagree that assessment must be an interaction between the teacher and students, with the teacher continually seeking to understand what a student can do and how a student is able to do it.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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