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Structure based partial solution search for the examination timetabling problem.

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The aim of this work is to present a new approach, namely, Structure Based Partial Solution Search (SBPSS) to solve the Examination Timetabling Problem. The success of the Developmental Approach in this problem domain suggested that the strategy of searching the spaces of partial timetables whilst constructing them is promising and worth pursuing. This work adopts a similar strategy. Multiple timetables are incrementally constructed at the same time. The quality of the partial timetables is improved upon by searching their partial solution spaces at every iteration during construction. Another key finding from the literature survey revealed that although timetables may exhibit the same behaviour in terms of their objective values, their structures or exam schedules may be different. The challenge with this finding is to decide on which regions to pursue because some regions may not be worth investigating due to the difficulty in searching them. These problematic areas may have solutions that are not amenable to change which makes it difficult to improve them. Another reason is that the neighbourhoods of solutions in these areas may be less connected than others which may restrict the ability of the search to move to a better solution in that neighbourhood. By moving to these problematic areas of the search space the search may stagnate and waste expensive computational resources. One way to overcome this challenge is to use both structure and behaviour in the search and not only behaviour alone to guide the search. A search that is guided by structure is able to find new regions by considering the structural components of the candidate solutions which indicate which part of the search space the same candidates occupy. Another benefit to making use of a structure-based search is that it has no objective value bias because it is not guided by only the objective value. This statement is consistent with the literature survey where it is suggested that in order to achieve good performance the search should not be guided by only the objective value. The proposed method has been tested on three popular benchmark sets for examination timetabling, namely, the Carter benchmark set; the benchmark set from the International Timetabling competition in 2007 and the Yeditepe benchmark set. The SBPSS found the best solutions for two of the Carter problem instances. The SBPSS found the best solutions for four of the competition problem instances. Lastly, the SBPSS improved on the best results for all the Yeditepe problem instances.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.