Monday, 27 September, 2021

Open Book Examination: Testing Students’ Knowledge Instead of Memory

Masum Billah

Open Book Examination: Testing Students’ Knowledge Instead of Memory
Masum Billah

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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. We can do it by asking them to open their books and answer the questions either orally or in writing. We need to show our response to education as per the necessity of time and situation prevailing around us. The entire globe has been engulfed by the Corona pandemic and it has forced educational institutions to remain closed and students to be away from their places of education. However, different alternative ways 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 faculties 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 evaluate 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), conducted one of our tutorials by following the ‘Open Book Examination System’ a long time ago. We were asked to find out platonic love, romantic elements and imagery from Shelly’s poems. Creative teachers thus apply creative methods to teach and evaluate learners in all ages and in all territories.

Open-book exams 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 of time. But questions should be developed in such a way as 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 higher thinking skills. It also tests students’ ability to quickly find relevant information and then to understand, analyse and apply knowledge, while thinking critically. Answering the questions will require more than just copying information from texts. How they locate, apply, and use relevant 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 not just read and copy from the open book provided at the examination hall. Realistic workplace scenarios may be presented to the students, describing situations where they are asked to carry out a series of tasks using evidence presented in the scenario, to test the knowledge they have gained through their studies, and participation 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 do with 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. What the student is expected to do is 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 retention and retrieval from 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 reasoning rather than recalling the facts like a memory test. Students have to consult various sources, such as textbooks, classroom notes, online blogs to sit for such type of examinations.  This helps them interrelate the concepts and encourages them to acquire knowledge in a more creative approach and discourages rote learning. It also reduces their fear, anxiety and stress levels which tend to negatively influence the learners’ test performance by diminishing pressure on memory resource availability.

The suffocating environment that has prevailed since March 2020 has seriously caused valuable education time loss to 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 behaviour due to closure of educational institutions, lockdown, rising death rates and rapid spread of infections. 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.


The writer works for BRAC Education