What piece of advice would you give to anyone planning
a career in assessment?
Wow, that is a tough one! I would say that it is
important to gain experience in different areas of
assessment so that you have a good understanding of
all the moving parts. I am fortunate that I have
worked writing items, building assessments, chairing
editorial boards, managing the quality of assessments
and when heading up the 'Life in the UK' test service,
I ran the end-to-end delivery of a large national
testing service including candidate support, 120 test
centres, key stakeholder management (Home Office,
Advisory Board, Parliament etc.), the introduction of
100% web registration and so on. Following that I have
worked with 3 organisations that deliver assessments
internationally: IB, NCC Education and NCUK.
All of this has given me a really good helicopter view
of the assessment industry. So I would advise anyone
thinking of a career in assessment to work in
different functional areas and also try and work in
different organisations in different markets. There is
always something new to learn; as much how to do it as
how not to do it.
Thinking back over your career, what would you rank as
the most important innovation in management of
I would say the digitisation of assessment has been
the most important aspect. It is still ongoing and
there is much, much more to come. Nearly all large
awarding organisations mark and moderate on screen.
This brings improved quality of marking as well as
reduced time to results. Even more so when the
assessment is delivered on screen. However, we are
still at a stage where we are doing what we have
always done on paper just more efficiently and
effectively. Once we start to break free from the
lingering cultural restraints and mindset of decades
(if not centuries!) of paper-based testing then we
will really feel the benefits.
What would you say was the biggest challenge facing
awarding bodies today? And how can they best meet this
Many assessments are still based on knowledge. If you
look at what employers are looking for, knowledge is
quite low down on the list. They are looking for key
skills such as an ability to collaborate, analytical
thinking, creativity. The world is changing at an ever
faster pace and through mobile technology we can
access the sum total of human knowledge via a device
we can carry in our pockets. The important thing
nowadays is being able to find relevant information,
validate it and use it to effect. Being an independent
and therefore a lifelong learner is another item on
the wish list as is emotional intelligence (cultural
sensitivity, adaptability, being able to deal with
uncertainty etc.) How do we assess these effectively?
On a more practical level, essay mills are one of the
key problems facing awarding organisations at the
moment. This unwelcome form of outsourcing is a direct
result of the successful combating of plagiarism by
the use of software packages such as Turnitin. I
suspect that this will be overcome only by changing
the design of assessment.
Do you think that the use of paper in examinations
will be phased out or will it always have a role?
I would imagine that there is some point in time when
paper will be phased out completely, but not for a
while yet. It is still easier for large cohort testing
at a single physical location to be done on paper
rather than digitally (in most cases). When you add in
issues around connectivity and cultural lag, then
paper testing will be with us for a while yet.
What do you think have been the most useful technical
advancements in assessment software?
Most recently I would say that reliable,
has been a welcome advance. For many organisations, it
has been possible to deliver learning to students
remote from their bricks and mortar networks but not
scalable to source assessments in bricks and mortar
centres. So a massive tick for accessibility. It is
also more secure than centre-based delivery, although
more invasive. The main blocker apart from cultural
resistance to this form of invigilation, is the cost.
However, AI is now at the point where invigilation can
be done digitally and that should make remote
invigilation much more attractive.
What are the most dramatic changes you have seen in
the running of exams over the course of your career?
Probably the use of on screen, objective testing to
give instant results for mass testing programmes.
Think 'Life in the UK' test and the driving theory
test. This makes life so much better for all concerned
compared to paper-based testing. Unthinkable when I
entered the education industry back in 1989 (and yes,
I am that old).
Should we be running assessments differently? What
would you change if you could?
I have thought for a long time now that our
assessments are based on a person’s performance at a
single point in time; a snapshot if you like. This has
worked for a long time and nearly all assessment works
like this. However, with less emphasis being placed on
knowledge and more on skills/competencies, then this
makes less sense. We have the technology now to
measure longitudinally rather than laterally. Imagine
a thousand or a million snapshots of performance for
each individual rather than just a few. Making sense
of all this data is the challenge but once we get
there, it could truly revolutionise assessment as we
What’s the most unusual assessment story you have
encountered or experienced?
Well, while managing the 'Life in the UK' test,
illegal activity at one centre resulted in a 30-man
police raid on the centre and a large trial. That was
certainly a new experience.
Have you had a professional mentor who was especially
influential in your career? If yes, what lessons or
advice have proven to be most impactful for you?
Not one but many in different sectors. I like to think
I can learn something from everyone I meet. They all
have their own story to tell and particular views and
What social media platforms do you use regularly, and,
of these, which one do you find to be the most useful
in your professional life?
I tend to use LinkedIn, but also keep an eye on
Twitter and Facebook. I like reading Donald Clark’s
blog as he loves to stir the pot and often has
something of interest to say.
What business book or blog do have you found most
interesting or useful in the past year?
Lots of books and not related to assessment. Two very
good books I would recommend to anyone are: ‘Good
Strategy, Bad Strategy’ and ‘Thinking Inside the Box’.
Matthew started working in international education in
1989 as a TEFL teacher and teacher trainer in Spain
and Brazil. Since 2000 he has worked with digital
learning and assessment. He headed up the Life in the
UK test service for six years from 2006 and since then
has worked on digital strategy with the IB, NCC
Education and NCUK. Matthew has spoken at various
international conferences (eATP, eAssessment Question)
and was a board member of the eAssessment Association.
to learn more about services that Matthew provides,
such as support for item and test bank development,
instructional design, content conversion and English
language testing content development.
If you’re interested in the impact online assessment
can make, take a look at the
online assessment case studies
here for more insights into how organisations have
made the transition.