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Reform Examinations to Promote Deeper Learning

By Prof. Onkar Singh

Education is the kindling of a flamenot the filling of a vessel.”


From time immemorial, the examinations have been considered as a tool for assessing the understanding levels of the students. The examination processes have not seen many variations irrespective of the learning system. But there exist possibilities of reforms to promote deeper learning. The performance of students is quantified in the form of grades or marks based on the responses to the questions. Usually, students have to write answers elaborately in subjective type questions or choose appropriate answer(s) in the objective type questions.  The competitive examinations use objective type question papers. While the formal degree/certificate level courses still rely on subjective type examinations majorly.

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The higher education system of India has major dependence upon the final examinations. This has been there despite the continuous evaluation system being in place for most of the programs. The cumulative performance of students in the prescribed evaluation framework leads to the award of degree with grade/marks/division. Therefore, it is important to introspect the prevailing examination system and envisage reforms to promote deeper learning.

It is important to introspect the prevailing examination system

Examinations are the culminating steps for the completion of the courses taught. The modalities and processes of examination decide the quality of evaluation. This, in turn, affects the overall quality of education by either increasing the diligence level of the students. The conventional mode of examination has a question paper, an examinee, and an examiner as its key components. Apart from these the conduction of examination and its evaluation also play a significant role in the quality of the whole process.  Among these components, the quality of questions decides the quality of assessment of the learning by the students. For example, the question paper containing easy questions can seldom assess the deeper learning of the students. Let us look at these elements of examination and work out the reforms. The examinations are the most effective tool for proper evaluation of learning levels.

Question Paper

Generally, the question papers (QPs) carry questions requiring students to recall the well-practised skills acquired earlier during the teaching. The QPs requiring students to use memory more than the use of mental abilities are not fair assessments of learning. Also, they do not compel students to have a deeper understanding.  Student’s tendency of a few nights-study before the date of examination needs to be checked. It can be done by asking subject knowledge, application of logic, handling real-life situations, understanding available information, etc.  

Persuading students from superficial learning to deep learning will shift rote learning to the backseat

QPs should themselves eliminate the challenges, like copying and cheating during the conduction of examination. The teachers should encourage students to update their skills by deeper learning while teaching the subject(s). This will help students not panic about the examinations. Efforts to eliminate the fear of forgetting at the time of the exam will control the anxiety in students. The teachers persuading students from superficial learning to deep learning will push rote learning to the backseat.

Open book examination does not create anxiety in students but nature & difficulty levels of questions make it difficult to resort to the traditional tricks of scoring well in the examinations

Studies indicate that closed and open book examinations are the two popular modes of examination. The conventional examination of closed book type is popular because of the difference in opinion on the open book examination. Though the open book examination does not create anxiety in students due to access to their notes and books. But the nature of questions and expectations makes it difficult to resort to the traditional tricks of scoring well. The open book examinations stimulate students for prudent use of the notes, books, and other information available to them. The designing of question paper of requisite quality necessitates a higher degree of rigour with students and teachers both. This can be one of the reforms to promote deeper learning.

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It is evident that most of the higher education institutions have closed book examinations in the country. Therefore, the QPs need to have questions requiring deeper learning and application of knowledge for invigorating the quality of education.


Students in the formal or informal education system of the country take cues from the previous year’s examinations. This gauging of examination pattern has stereotyped the way of learning in the students. The purpose of education is not to merely secure grades/marks/division, but also to seek knowledge and learning in the examinees. The students should be made to understand the purpose of examination so that they equip themselves with in-depth subject knowledge. The examinees should be asked to comment on the worthiness of questions in QPs. This is needed for improving the overall standard of examination.  The examinees resorting to direct reading and reproducing the same without analysis & application of knowledge degrades the quality of education.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.eing on his academic certificates. The goal of education is to help you to think and lead.”

Martin Luther King Jr.


The examiners are usually the teachers who are well aware of the requirements of the students completing the respective courses. Nowadays, there is explicit laying down of the program objectives and outcomes for fulfilling the accreditation requirements. But, the teaching has not reformed itself as per the philosophy behind outcome-based education. The honest assimilation of the philosophy of outcome-based education holds the potential for achieving excellence.

Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Studs Terkel

Examinations being a critical component of education provide opportunities to the academics for revitalizing the examination. The dilution in setting up of the QPs eventually leads to the relaxation on the part of students. The students should learn the courses holistically. The institutions should adapt well-thought examination practices that impel the examinees for wholesome learning and deeper understanding. Also, the examiners belonging to the responsible teaching community should strive hard for enriching the teaching-learning processes.

The examiners should work on the evaluation system based on the premise of assessing subject understanding. Also, the effort should be to discourage memorization as part of the reforms to promote deeper learning. It is inevitable to develop QPs with questions,

  • giving importance to the knowledge of facts
  • focusing on information seeking
  • using the information in newer situations for their analysis
  • avoiding the reproduction of the rehearsed material
  • emphasizing on reading, and
  • requiring practicing of the learning

It will be appropriate to strengthen the examination for assessing the deeper learning of the students for achieving excellence. The open book examinations increase the efforts of the examiners in setting suitable questions in QPs. But offer lesser anxiety and more confidence in the examinees as the relevant content is available to them. Closed book examinations may be somewhat comfortable to the examiners but offer a higher degree of anxiety to the examiners. Better to start with a tradeoff between the two modes i.e. closed book examination and open book examination. At least a few subjects in a semester/year be assessed through open-book examination mode. This will help students appreciate the importance of deep learning.

“By education, I mean an allround drawing out of the best in child and manbodymind and spirit.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

About the author

Prof. Onkar Singh has been the Founder Vice-Chancellor of the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.). Currently, he is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).

Onkar Singh

Prof. Onkar Singh has been the Founder Vice-Chancellor of the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.). Currently, he is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).

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