The Traditional Exam Hall – Are Candidates At A Disadvantage?

A man’s hands writing on paper

Welcome to the new TestReach blog series! This is the start of what will be a succession of thought-provoking articles and news about the world of online assessment, examinations and technology. To kick start things, this inaugural blog post is going to tackle the thorny question of whether the traditional exam hall approach is placing candidates at a disadvantage.

Even in this modern digital age where everyone is connected and everything is online, there are many organisations that still rely on pen and paper as the trusted method by which they deliver exams and assessments. The traditional exam-hall approach dates back over 3,000 years, where an Imperial Examination was run in China to select suitable candidates for the civil service. Apart from the fact that you could potentially be executed if you were caught cheating, very little has changed in terms of the process associated with running pen and paper-based exams – candidates come to an exam hall and record their answers on paper, whilst being watched over by one or more supervisors.

But just because it's always been done like this, doesn’t negate the significant issues associated with the exam-hall approach. Aside from the logistical challenges of finding and managing test centres and the administration associated with securely routing paper exams and answer sheets to all the various places they need to go, there are also significant draw backs for candidates. Is it logical that after studying all the course material online, a working professional has to take time off work and travel miles to sit their accreditation exam? If a university student has to re-sit a faculty exam, it is fair to expect them to cut short their summer work experience and fly home early?

A lack of flexibility is probably the most obvious drawback for candidates when it comes to running face-to-face exams, but this extends a lot further than just the logistics of travel. Consider an accountant taking an advanced qualification, it seems unreasonable to expect them to produce a set of accounts on a sheet of paper when they are used to working online. Office work today consists of spreadsheets and text editors. Our modus operandi is to capture our initial thoughts and then immediately start editing everything until we are happy with the result. It is impossible to replicate this world using one-dimensional pen and paper and that puts candidates at a distinct disadvantage when taking their exam. It imposes a different way of doing things – having to map out answers in advance before actually starting to write. The pressure of exams is more enough to contend with.

Interestingly, one of our clients who runs exams with essay-style answers experienced a 12% increase in the pass rate when they moved to online assessment. Based on feedback from candidates who were surveyed after the exam, they directly attribute this increase two factors. One was that candidates could edit their answers before submitting and the second was that candidates did not have to write for three hours. The overall quality of the responses in terms of content, structure and legibility was far better than in previous exam sittings! Definitely something to think about.

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You can also read more about remote invigilation or online proctoring here.