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What Do Students Have To Say About Open Book Exams?

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There are exams and then there are Open Book Exams (OBEs). OBE is the concept that arose in the Indian educational institute amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what is OBE? As I mentioned above, this is an open book examination.

You have to open your book, copy notes or any study material related to your exam papers. Just copy the answer from a book or study material, make a pdf and upload it on the university/institute’s website.

What do you think? Is this really an exam? Is it really worth it for students? Those who give OBEs know the situation they have to face. I am here to tell you about it.

Representative Image.

One of the important things which I understand regarding OBEs is, and maybe it’s cliché, but it stops us from thinking about any ideology, disciplines, innovations, etc. Everyone thinks, “Why study when this is an OBE? We just open the study material and copy it.” My guardian has always asked what the point of taking admissions in a good college was when we write the exam by cheating. Is it really worth it?

Another problem is if we study any discipline seriously and think, “No, I will not cheat in this discipline,” then there’s unwanted peer pressure in our mind that others write the exam by cheating and may get better marks. So, I also have to cheat in order to get better marks. This is the thing I can’t deal with.

I talked to some of my friends. One of them said that an OBE was nothing but a platform to show your cheating skills, how good you can cheat or how big your group is where you share answers. Another friend said, “I don’t understand what’s happening. It is just making complete fun of the examination system.” Some of my friends said that an OBE was thought of as something that was better than nothing.

Meanwhile, some days ago, there was a notice referring to the UGC going viral in many WhatsApp groups that claimed that there was no need to take the examination. There would only be end semester exams. Students were relieved, but unfortunately, it turned out to be false news. The students who fell into this trap became more anxious. And again, they said, “Kya hi farq padta hai, OBE hai.”

If I start to quote what students have said, most of the answers are identical; “OBE is good in this situation”, “what can they (administration) do”, “it’s a pandemic”, etc.

One said, “Yeah, I know this whole OBE system is a fraud, but you know this is also necessary.” Another said, “Yaar drama hai ye, khatam karwao isko… kuchh seekh hi nhi rhe.” Another view is that whether it’s an OBE or normal exam, they would get the same marks, so they have no issues with either of them.

Utkarsh, a JMI student from a B.A. programme, has something different to say about OBEs. He said, “I support OBEs. I rather want that normal exam should be replaced by OBE because normal exams just end up testing memory power. Whereas in an OBE, if the questions are framed well, they can actually be helpful in testing the analytical understanding of the subject, especially in the discipline of social sciences.”

But most students don’t think like Utkarsh. One of my teachers said, “OBEs can give you an option to frame well and analytical answers.” But when we talk about the positives, we have less. A majority of students have a negative response to OBE.

online class
Representative Image.

I talked to two of my professors; one of them said, “Personally, I always felt that OBEs are tougher than normal exams, especially for social sciences where the answers usually require an amount of critical thinking. Plus, there’s the whole issue of the time limit. Whether you are able to find adequate answers from a vast syllabus. If a student is attentive in class and has taken notes, then I think they might do better in OBEs.”

She added, “Actually, any kind of exams should not be held at the moment, Online or Offline. It is not beneficial for any student. But society is determined to be mechanical even in such harsh times.” 

Another professor said that OBEs were helpful. Even before the pandemic, many teachers used this method to discourage rote learning in favour of critical thinking.

So, firstly they have online classes where learning is nothing but “nil battey sannatta”, and then they have to give an exam called “Open Book Exam”. What’s the point of taking the exam? Aren’t they aware of what they are doing? Is it all about formalities? Do they really know what students think about it? Is it just unwanted pressure to improve someone? Have they tried to find alternatives?

I have tried to talk to students about alternatives to OBEs. Many of them said there was no alternative. I said, “Don’t you think that they can do something better in internal assessment? They can ask well-framed questions based on the students’ internal assessment which they have prepared for and marks should be decided on that.”

Some of them agreed with what I said and some of them had questions like, “How do they know the answer given in response to the well-framed question is not copied?” Students might face connection issues, and in this process, students have to open their videos because without it they could give answers by looking at internal assignments. Another alternative is a proctored exam, but again there are connection issues.

Every alternative has its own consequences. Here, if anyone can help with the learning mechanism, it is our teachers. If they focus more on conversations and one-to-one discussions, then there’s always a chance to improve this learning phase.

After all, education is all about learning in practical ways and not always about examinations, whether it’s an OBE or normal exam.

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