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Open-book engineering, exams to root out rote learning

Hyderabad: The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has decided to allow open-book examination for engineering from 2019 onwards. This exam reform policy by AICTE is an attempt to meet the challenges on the emerging engineering education landscape.

According to the council, the traditional written examinations have a significant weakness as they tend to encourage rote learning and superficial application of knowledge. 


 
 

This deficiency can be overcome by ‘open-book examination’. At the same time every exam should not be open-book, states the new reforms, approved by the council, because it’s just one of the methods which can be used wherever necessary and possible. 

The council has also proposed a two-step method for mapping the examination questions. The council believes that at this juncture, reforms in examinations are critical for improvement of the quality and relevance of Indian engineering education.

According to AICTE, the examinations or assessment of students play a very important role in deciding the quality of education. The academic quality of examinations (question papers) in Indian engineering education system has been a matter of concern for a long time. The most important drivers for examination reforms in Indian engineering education system are discussed in the recommendations made by the council.

The council recommended that the questions in the open-book exam must take advantage of the format, and give more weightage to application of knowledge, critical thinking and use of resources for solving real complex engineering problems.

The Application of Blooms taxonomy framework made to create the optimal structure of examination papers to test the different cognitive skills is discussed in detail along with the challenge of assessing higher order abilities and professional skills through the traditional examination system. Both these aspects have been brought out in the recommendations. Also the council has identified several educational experiences and assessment opportunities to overcome the challenges.

The council recommended that the questions in the open-book exam must take advantage of the format, and give more weightage to application of knowledge, critical thinking and use of resources for solving real complex engineering problems.

According to the council, there is lot of advantages of open-book tests like it is less demanding on memory and hence less stressful and questions can emphasise more on problem solving, application of knowledge and higher order thinking rather than simple recalling of facts.

Dr. Srini Bhupalam, President, All India Federation of Self-Financing Technical Institutes said, "Though it is a good initiative, I am very much worried about the students and their ability to cope with a completely new way of evaluation. In the developed countries, teaching content, teaching methods and evaluation slowly change from 6th grade onwards, so students slowly develop the acumen and become accustomed to the system of evaluation.

He further added, "But in India, our students are habituated to rote learning and archaic testing methods until 10+2. The new evaluation would be a paradigm shift for them and I am afraid it may be too difficult for them to cope. Hence I recommend implementing this from high school itself so that the students are better prepared when they come to UG professional courses''.

Designing a good Open-Book Examination
Set questions that require students to do things with the information available to them, rather than to merely locate the correct information and then summarize or rewrite it. The questions in an open book exam must take advantage of the format, and give more weightage to application of knowledge, critical thinking and use of resources for solving real complex engineering problems. As the nature of questions is complex, it is to be ensured that the students get enough time. Open-book test questions typically take longer time compared to traditional examinations. It is advisable either to set lesser number of questions that encompass 2 or 3 concepts taught or allocate longer duration of time for the examinations.

Advantages of open-book examinations

Less demanding on memory and hence less stressful

Questions can emphasise more on problem solving, application of knowledge and higher order thinking rather than simple recall of facts.

Assessment questions can reflect real-life situations that require comprehension, information retrieval and synthesising skills of the students to solve issues.