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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Online Exams with TestReach