7 Facts About Online Exams

The number 7 on a stone representing 7 facts about Online Exams

More than one billion students worldwide have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The news of cancelled exams has been widely covered by the press and has left many asking what solutions exist to enable students to continue to study and to sit important examinations.

There are a number of companies who provide software on which to create online examinations, which means students can sit examinations on a computer rather than pen-and-paper. This enables students to take their exam away from a test centre and reduces the need for passing around physical items such as exam papers, which is important in an era of social distancing. Some companies provide what is known as remote invigilation (also known as online proctoring) which is when a supervisor (also known as ‘invigilator’ or ‘proctor’) watches a candidate take an exam online using video, audio and screenshare connections. This means that a secure, invigilated examination can be taken from home – instead of being invigilated in person in a test centre.

Some companies, such as TestReach, offer both the examinations software on which to create and run exams, as well as the option of remote invigilation. This combination provides the flexibility required for organisations who are under pressure to run professional exams that must be invigilated – but which cannot take place in a physical test centre. The concept of an assessment centre, full to the brim with exam-takers, is hard to imagine in the circumstances of 2020.

So how can online exams provide a possible solution? Here are some facts about online exams that you may not have considered before.

1. Online Exams Offer Greater Security of Data

Once exams are being done online, the information gathered is no longer being moved around on exam papers and on excel spreadsheets. All information – questions, test papers, candidate details, candidates' answers, marking and results – are stored safely and securely in one location. Depending on your provider, this data will be stored in the cloud with back-up servers providing extra peace of mind.

Also, by granting a very granular level of access to your examination software, where for example, a question author can only access the ‘authoring’ section of the software, whereas a senior administrator may be able to access all exam papers, you maintain greater security around candidate information and exam content.

However, if you print exam papers, and send them to test centres, then gather them up to be sent by courier to markers, then markers email in their marks which someone manually inputs into a spreadsheet – the scope for data to be compromised and the possibility of human error is greatly increased. When you move online, answers are secure and online marking, with useful marking tools and marker workflows, make the process more streamlined.

2. Cheating Prevention in an Online World

Online examination software that uses remote invigilation to deliver the exams, has a number of build-in protections against attempts to cheat in examinations.

The invigilator or proctor will be trained to observe the candidate closely via audio, video and screenshare. They can at all times see and hear the candidate and see their screen. If anything outside of exam rules occurs, the supervisor can raise an infringement and if this is severe, access to the exam can be stopped.

Other tools also support the security of the exam. This may include secure computer lockdown, which is used by some suppliers to prevent a student from navigating to other browser windows or applications while they are answering questions in the exam.

It is also possible to introduce security measures according to each organisation’s own needs. For example, you might choose linear progression through an exam, so this prevents a candidate from changing their previous answers as they move through the exam.

3. Exam Timers – Online is not the same as Test Centre

When a candidate comes to take an online exam, they often think it will be same as a paper-based exam in a test centre. The feeling is that everyone in the exam will start at exactly the same time and finish at the same time.

However, with online exams, it doesn’t have to work like that. Once a candidate connects to an online supervisor, they will have to go through some ID checks and have their environment scanned to be sure it is secure, before access to the exam paper can be granted.

This process can take a different amount of time for each candidate. It is only once the candidate finishes their validation process, and starts their exam, that their exam timer will start. The exam timer will be unique to them. So it may be that some candidates in the same exam will start 5 minutes earlier or 10 minutes later…. But it doesn’t matter, as each candidate will get the same amount of time to sit their exam.

4. A Closer Level of Exam Invigilation

When the “exam hall” is recreated in an online world, there are a number of differences to the typical test centre environment.

In a test centre, you can have a very large number of candidates being supervised by one invigilator or proctor. However, in an online scenario, there is a much lower supervisor : candidate ratio. This means that even through a candidate is being supervised over a remote camera rather than in-person, the invigilator can watch the candidate very closely.

The other big difference with online invigilation is that while the invigilator can see the candidate clearly, the candidate cannot see their invigilator. In a test centre, a candidate can tell if the supervisor has turned their back – but online it is not possible for a candidate to know what their supervisor is doing. All they know is that they are being watched, and while they can speak to their supervisor, they cannot know anything further.

At TestReach, we have run a lot of feedback surveys with candidates after they have taken their exams online. In these surveys, one point that is often made in favour of online invigilation is that candidates find it less stressful to take their exam from home. The whole process of travelling to a test centre on a specific day, sitting down in a room with many other candidates, can add to the stress of examinations. Being in a familiar home environment does enable candidates to feel more at ease. This is especially true if the supervisors provided who work with them online are well trained, friendly and professional.

5. Accessibility to Examinations for All

Online examinations can make it easier to adapt examinations for people who require special adjustments. So for example, depending on the exam software used, candidates with dyslexia or visual impairments can access specialised exam interfaces, that have been adjusted for size, contrast etc. to make it easier to use. An online exam, unlike pen-and-paper, can also facilitate a zoom function – a simple point, but one which can make a huge difference to candidates with visual disabilities. You can read more about exam accessibility in online exams here.

6. Improving Exam Questions Over Time

Once you have your question banks and test papers uploaded into an online system, and are running online exams, you will end up gathering a great deal of insightful data about the questions themselves. Depending on the software you use, you can accessing psychometric data on questions in your exam papers, that will demonstrate how often candidates are getting them right or wrong, or how long they are spending on specific questions themselves. For example, if you find that candidates are spending a long time on a certain question and over 80% of them are getting it wrong, you can highlight question to be reviewed. You can quickly retire it from the question bank until it has been adjusted and tested again. At TestReach, what we find is that over time our clients say that there exam banks “settle” which means that the questions have had a lot of use in actual exams, and they have adjusted any that were too difficult or too easy. This is a very useful application of online data which is not easy to do with pen-and-paper exams.

7. A Wide Range of Assessments

The TestReach application supports a number of online assessment scenarios. These include remotely invigilated online exams, online assessments at exam centres, online assessments without supervision, and also assignments.

Furthermore, within the exam itself, it is possible to customise the format, question types, and more. Quizzes, surveys, diagnostic testing and both formative and summative examinations are available.

With online software tools, there is the option of question randomisation, which means that all exam papers will vary in their specific content. This is another useful anti-cheating feature of online assessments. There is also the option to randomise answer options, which also maintains security for the exam content. Exam authors may also choose to use negative marking, which means that marks will be deleted if the wrong answer is chosen. This prevents candidates from guessing the answer – they will only select an answer when they are sure they are right.

Now You're Up Speed on Online Exams

We've now covered seven useful-to-know facts about online exams. Their reliability and efficiency make them a suitable alternative to traditional in-person assessments, and the flexibility in delivery options with a system like TestReach can be extremely important when students can no longer congregate in exam halls. Online exam creation, assessments, and marking solutions have never been so necessary.

At TestReach we offer a full suite of resources to help you carry out your examination needs. If you have any questions about TestReach’s software or service, or if you're interested in a demo, don't hesitate to contact us here.

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To read more about how TestReach features support the transition to online exams, visit this page to learn more: Online Exams with TestReach