Why Kashmir Is A Fit Case For An Alternate Examination System?

by Nazir Ahmad Gilkar and Iqra Majeed Shah

Shutdown to lock-down has adversely impacted the education system as well. As times have changed, we should start thinking out of the box and create new successful alternatives. Closed book examination has not been replaced in totality. However, Open book examination is finding a due space in a given situation.

A policeman helps a student to cross a concertina barricade to reach her examination centre in Srinagar in November 2019. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Open Book Examinations (OBE) permit to carry examination notes, textbooks or resource material (hard and soft) into an exam situation. They evaluate one’s ability to find and apply knowledge. There are two formats of OBE:

  1. Traditional sit-down in a neck to the neck examination hall. This is for limited-time varying degrees of access to resources and references.
  2. Take home OBE one does at home. Questions are delivered; answers are attempted without help from others. The exam is returned within a specified period of time.

The materials examinee can take into an OBE vary in quantum. Some restrict the type of materials while others may be totally unrestricted. Materials might be one’s notes, readings, reference materials, equipment. Materials used in take-home exams are usually unrestricted textbooks, lecture notes prepared by students to find out what an examinee can be able to do. The only restriction for take-home exams is that it should be attempted by the examinee only.

OBE is more than just rote learning. At University or College, simply memorising and repeating information is not enough to get high grades. Higher education is required to equip learners with intellectual abilities and skills. OBE evaluates learner’s ability to quickly find relevant information and then to understand, analyse, apply knowledge and think critically in a given situation.

Kashmir students appearing for board exams

Here an attempt is made to focus on take-home open book examination system. It is appreciable that many teaching-learning online platforms have been introduced for the students and Google Classrooms top the list.  Learning is to be evaluated for certification in due course of time.

To develop faculty virtual workshops on alternative examinations may be conducted. The expertise of Professors like Mehraj-ud-din Mir, GN Tantray, AM Shah, AS Bhat, M Yousuf Bhat, M Farooq Mir, Parveen A Pandit, Mumtaz Ali Andrabi, Khursheed A Mir, M Amin Bhat, Ajaz Ahmad Bhat may pool their intellectual resources in their respective universities to help the system by conducting these virtual workshops.

In OBE, construction of a question involves higher-order skills. This relates to structural change from Closed Based Examination (CBE). Accordingly, questions generally do not start or end up with adjectives, verbs like discuss, deliberate, explain, elaborate, explore, suggest, comment, trace out, differentiate, define and so on, however, why and how questions are relevant. This may not be a straight question. A question befitting for OBE should be conceptually sound, technically skilful and operationally practical. No doubt, the idea of OBE will not be accepted at the first instance because change is always resisted.

Kashmiri students appearing 12th Class examination at centre in Srinagar on Wednesday 30 October 2019. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

May consider discipline-specific electives, generic electives, ability enhance, skill-oriented courses leaving aside core courses (under choice based-credit system) in every programme for home take open-book examination be conducted. Faculty will not prepare but construct question papers, make them available on WhatsApp, Google Classroom, Moodle. Examinees also construct questions based on course content to engage them in the process in a joyful, stress-free and thrilling mode. The faculty will have a rich inventory of creative, fine-tuned, well-chiselled questions.

The examinees use lose sheets, answer in bullet format at their residence. Evaluators expected responses made by faculty are also available. Compare student response with expected response and award accordingly, while evaluating answer scripts. Evaluation process audit will take due care. The examinees can try and try again to find out answers.

The faculty will not resort to short cuts and easy-going way but take the assignment seriously to make the exercise productive. Empower faculty, trust examinees are done on an experimental basis, reduce exam burden. Lockdown might get prolonged. The re-evaluation may also be done as usual on demand. This endeavour is an attempt to boost the morale of students in shutdown/lock-down period. They may find it thrilling to answer creative questions. Around 35-40% examination load is expected to be reduced.

The home-based open examination was suggested for two important reasons. One it can serve as an alternative option amid crisis. Second, a total of three to four questions of equal weight are reasonably fair to make a question paper unlike the bunch of outmoded questions framed under closed book examination. A student is free to turn to any resource to consult the questions received from his teacher through digital mode. The fundamental idea is to involve him in a thought process to find solutions out of the box so as to make intelligent decisions. When creativity and innovation are encouraged, learning becomes fun and learners become brainy. The world is least interested in the origination of the deadly virus but it’s actively looking for how to come out of the crisis.

Likewise, the total focus must be on finding solutions when academic activities have been interrupted. The challenge, however, is to equip and re-orient teachers to execute it effectively and efficiently.

Prof NA Nadeem and Prof A Gani in the chair and Prof Nighat Basu had deliberations upon the subject OBE (CUK Annual Report 2018-19). Additionally, Prof Parveen A Pandit (CoE) had thought of plan B in 2018 to be able to work in a world of constraints.

For pilot study teachers in Higher Education may construct one question each to be provided to their students in order to orient them to respond. Assignments, case-study, term paper, projects, dissertations etc. are a genre of home take OBE. The system under home take OBE trusts examinees and considers it their own work and award accordingly.

The OBE suffers from some operational difficulties in a given situation. However, the same is manageable in due course of time. Some academics opine that OBE cannot be conducted in numerical courses of study. The experts in Mathematics, Accounting and Taxation, however, find it operational in these subjects as well. They also constructed questions based on OBE. The sample inventory of numerical and non-numerical questions compiled by the authors are available on demand.

Apprehensions are expressed that OBE is a time-consuming process of evaluation. First, a distinction is to be made between the marking and evaluation of answer scripts. At university level answer scripts are minutely studied and evaluated accordingly, twenty five-thirty minutes are invested to evaluate an answer script and award accordingly. However, at school and even at the college level, answer scripts are marked and within thirty minutes the marking process of ten answer scripts is completed. This may be because of a huge number of answer scripts. Ample evidence is available in support of this contention.

In Business Education programmes (M Com, MBA, MTM, MFC) a question is a case study based. Examinees are provided with the case study and a set of questions are asked to them and the response is not on the based on memorization but understanding and comprehension analysis and evaluation of an operational situation in an environment. This is primarily an Open Book Examination. In business programmes, the examination and evaluation is done based on closed and open book systems in 2:1 mix.

It is right that OBE can be started selectively at the beginning. The universities with a small number of students pursuing its programmes can switch over to OBE. CUK has a comparative advantage in this regard. CUK has already taken up developing faculty in 2018. During the 6th Post ESE workshop, the Varsity arrange a presentation on Open Book Examination in order to sensitise its faculty. Thus, in turn, to acquaint students on the subject.

The examination process will be completed within two days, two papers per day as per date sheet notified one week ago. The ways and means can be found out in an environment of constraints provided different minds positively work in tandem.

File Photo of students writing papers in their examination (KL Image Bilal Bahadur)

Of course, OBE suffers from several Demerits. It is difficult to judge whether all students have equally prepared for an OBE or not. Also, some books are very costly and the library also has a limited number of books. Sometimes students may invest more of their time in finding the material for a single topic. Also, they look for books rather than answering with their own knowledge and skills.

However, the merits offered by OBE are so many that these override the demerits. In an OBE, students can check the books in order to give the correct response. So, they don’t have to stuff a lot of facts. Students get a second chance to obtain knowledge. Also, they can gather suitable learning material rather than recalling it. It helps in remembering things for a longer duration. Students can also use different resourceful ways to collect necessary information from different sources.

Iqra Shah
Prof N A Gilkar

The beauty of OBE is in constructing creative, comprehensive and case-based ticklish / brain-teasing questions building an argument. Learning outcome-based curriculum framework (LOCF), 2018 also suggests the introduction of OBE. Thus, OBE helps to keep the mind healthy. It places the focus on higher-level learning because OBE does not have the same emphasis on memorization. Questions can move up Bloom’s Taxonomy of Education, Philosophy and practice and ask students to understand, apply, analyse, synthesize and evaluate knowledge, rather than just remember it. In a Closed Book Examination (CBE), the student mugs the information from the textbook without understanding the same and then reproduces it into the answer sheet. The OBE attempts to eliminate this process of memorizing. The bad impact of shutdown /lock-down has not only academic but behavioural dimension as well. Students, therefore, ought to be relieved of strain and stress they confront.

Furthermore, the following steps can be initiated to take lead.

  1. Develop faculty to construct at least one question each in their respective disciplines befitting OBE.
  2. Engage faculty to frame evaluator expected response for the question thus designed.
  3. Train students to construct a question for OBE to engage them in the process.
  4. Understand the spirit of Evaluation Process Audit.
  5. Assessment-Examination-Evaluation Management as a subject of study could find ways to come out of the crisis, rather continue with the crisis.


In an OBE, students can check the books in order to give the correct response. So, they don’t have to stuff a lot of facts. Students get a second chance to obtain knowledge. Also, they can gather suitable learning material rather than recalling it. It helps in remembering things for a longer duration. Students can also use different resourceful ways to collect necessary information from different sources.

The OBE is an enjoyable thrilling exercise. This not only saves a semester but give relief to examinees. It has two sides motivating and challenging. At the end of the day, we all are learners.

(Dr Gilkar is former Controller of examinations CUK. He has corporate experience of 10 years and academic experience of 30 years including 7 years of academic governance. Besides, he has authored five 5 books and 30 publication research papers. Iqra Majeed Shah is working as a contractual lecturer (Functional English) at HKM Degree College Bandipora. Ideas are personal.)

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