The open book exam is now a reality for CBSE with the path-breaking initiative set to debut in March next year for Std IX and XI. Christened Open Text Based Assessment (OTBA), its questions will be out of text/pictorial material which shall be given to students three months advance. In addition OTBA will allow students to take that text/pictorial material inside examination hall and refer to it while answering questions.

CBSE chairman Vineet Joshi justified this in a letter to school saying that "multiple modes of assessment need to be provided to cater to the varied abilities of individual strengths of learner. These are meant to incorporate analytical and theoretical skills, thus moving away from memorization". All subjects of Std IX and three of Std XI will be part of OTBA. The board had earlier planned to start this concept for Std X and XII but it seems the change has been made with a view to test the waters.

Joshi has informed schools that OTBA will comprise 15%-20% of the total marks and may also include value-based questions, which is already part of the current set up. Since Std IX comes under the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation Scheme, the March OTBA will be part of Summative Assessment-II (SA-II).

Joshi wrote to schools that they will be supplied with "textual material in a few months before the commencement of SA-II. A textual material may be in the form of an article, a case study, a diagram, a concept/mind map, a picture or a cartoon, problem/situation based on the concepts taught to be students during second term". He added that textual material will be related to chosen concepts taken from the syllabi. Joshi's letter added that "OTBA will have questions of higher order thinking skills some of which may be subjective, creative and open ended". Confirming that students will be able to refer to that material during exam, Joshi wrote that "textual material supplied earlier will be printed again as part of the question paper and thus will be available while answering the questions".

For Std XI, the OTBA will be applicable only to economics, biology and geography. This will be part of the final exam in March.

CBSE advised schools to mark the answer sheets based on four criterion. First is the student's understanding and application of the concepts to the situational problems, second being ability to suggest and bring out the appropriate solutions to the problem, third is the ability to come up with innovative opinions and fourth the ability to deeply analyze, based on a wide range of perspectives. More details are expected to be given to schools by December.

What is the Open Text Based Assessment (OTBA) and how will it work?

OTBA works on the "open book exam" system prevalent in many western countries. It permits students to carry material into the exam hall from which questions have been set.

OTBA does not dilute the exam as questions are not direct, but require understanding of topic's concept.

OTBA will be applicable to Std IX and Std XI students from March 2014. It will account for maximum 20% of the total marks.