Can Online Assessment Enable a More Candidate-Centric Approach to Exam Delivery?

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The Balance of Power between Examining Bodies and Candidates

A qualification is a valuable asset. To attain that qualification you typically study the course material and pass one or more exams that are under the complete control of your examiner.

Traditionally the balance of power has been tipped firmly towards examining bodies and candidates have been very good at obeying the rules when it comes to taking their assessments. They turn up at a test centre at a particular time, sit in a specified seat and they do not bring any materials into the exam.

Candidates have in the past demonstrated great patience and restraint when it comes to waiting on results and accepting their fate in terms of the grades they receive. There are many cases where the results issuing process for major exams has taken weeks or even months. In a world where examining bodies hold all the power, candidates simply accept this waiting ordeal as an integral part of the process for getting a qualification. There were never really questions asked or calls for faster turn-around times, as few were brave enough to upset the apple cart.

Even when it came to results, appeals were the exception to the rule. It was almost inappropriate for a mere candidate to question the methods and details of their examining body.

How things have changed…

Nowadays the balance of power is clearly moving towards the candidate at an ever-increasing rate.

First and foremost, those providing qualifications face growing levels of competition. This competition is not just from traditional competitors, but also from a whole host of new providers who are continually entering the global marketplace. Anyone wanting to add a new qualification to their CV just has to google the subject matter and typically hundreds of providers will appear.

Online course delivery enables a true global marketplace, where candidates can study material from any provider at any location through the use of virtual classrooms, e-learning and even virtual reality. Because the competition amongst qualification providers is fierce, in contrast to years gone by, examining bodies are becoming far more candidate-centric, continually looking to improve the candidate experience and offer a more flexible approach. Examining bodies that do not adapt and recognize that the balance of power is shifting inevitably will lose market share.

How Can Online Assessment Help?

Online assessment offers a range of tools which can help examining bodies respond in terms of improving the candidate experience. For example, remote invigilation, also known as remote proctoring, is a relatively new technology solution for running exams online, which is being increasingly favoured as an exam delivery method by many examining bodies. With this approach, candidates can take their exam at any location, and they are supervised completely online by trained invigilators via video, audio and remote screen share. It is very secure and the exam hall experience is effectively re-created online. The flexibility of not having to travel to a test centre, particularly for those living in remote areas can be a very attractive proposition, and is a big competitive differentiator for qualification providers.

When it comes to the issuing of exam results, it’s no wonder that with traditional pen and paper exam delivery methods, the issuing of results can sometimes take weeks and months. But increasingly, candidates are becoming more vocal about having to wait such long periods, particularly for professional qualifications where there may be a lot at stake. Again examining bodies are looking to online assessment technology for a solution to speeding up the process. This includes such things as moving to online assessment delivery, scanning scripts, on-screen marking etc.

Certainly, online assessment can offer a lot of benefits. Not only does it shorten the time to produce results because so much of the process is automated, but it increases the variety of questions that can be utilised over and above MCQ and essay. Online assessment also introduces the ability to auto-score many question types, and does not require candidates to write for hours and produce a script that is increasingly illegible.

When moving to online assessment, as an interim step, hand-written scripts can also be uploaded for online marking and this too can considerably reduce the time taken to issue results. There is no need to manually flow paper scripts between markers, marker queues can be monitored in real time, any rogue marking can be quickly identified and addressed and automated rules for double-blind marking or mark criteria boundaries can be set and applied from the start.

With everything running online and information available in real-time, there is also the added benefit that any candidate queries on results or requests to see their exam paper can be dealt with easily and quickly. Literally at the touch of a button, everything to do with a script can be viewed, interrogated and / or printed with almost no administration overhead. A far cry from having to retrieve a paper-based document from a choice of 50 bundles of scripts that are stored in a secure, off-site location.

The other key area where candidates are definitely having their voice heard, is when it comes to providing them with feedback after the exam. Gone are the days where if a candidate fails, the fact that they failed is the only piece of information they receive. Many examining bodies are now going to considerable lengths to ensure that all candidates receive much more detailed information about their exam performance. With more comprehensive assessment solutions such as TestReach, it is possible to associate questions with one or more taxonomies. Taxonomies are effectively hierarchical structures that can cover areas such as parts of the syllabus or learning outcomes. If, in a particular exam there are say 5 questions covering a specific part of the syllabus and the candidate scores badly across these 5 questions, then they can be given automated feedback that they did not score well in this subject area. This can be really beneficial, particularly for candidates who failed and are facing a re-sit. In addition, in some online assessment systems, there is also functionality to allow markers to capture comments at the time of marking, that can be fed back to the candidate and these can be further broken down by set marking criteria for each question.

There’s no doubt that we will continue to see the examining bodies place far more emphasis on meeting the needs of their candidates and ensuring their candidates have a positive experience. Overall this is a very positive trend as it forces examining bodies to change for the better and to be accountable to candidates.

If you’re considering moving to online assessment, and would like know more, download our 5-Step Guide to Online Examinations here.

Click here to read more about online assessment tools from TestReach.