Should formal exams move online?

Technology might have impacted on almost every part of life, but exams are still done the old fashion way. While pupils are likely to spend a growing portion of their school work using computers, tablets, or other forms of technology, the vast majority of exams are still completed sitting at a desk with pen and paper. Is it time for formal exams to move into the digital age?

It’s a debate that’s been gaining importance over the last few years and, just like any debate, there are both pros and cons to the argument. From SATs and GCSEs through to university level tests, should formal exams be conducted online?

Advantages of online exams

There are many advantages to creating and enforcing formal tests that can be taken online, including these four.

  • Ensure timings nationwide – Every effort is taken to ensure that pupils all across the country all start their exam at the same time and have the same amount of time to complete it, going digital makes this easy.
  • Reflect technological changes – Exams have been conducted in the same way for decades despite technology changing enormously in that time. Using online exams proves that pupils are computer literate, can type, and posses many other skills that are now considered essential for the workplace.
  • Allows for the use of additional media – Using technology to offer exams can help to make them more engaging and test additional areas. For example, high quality images and videos could be incorporated. It could also present an opportunity to deliver exams that are more inclusive, such as audio-described exams for blind students.
  • Incorporate the role technology plays in modern life – This one is controversial but it’s an important one. Today, it can be argued that students don’t need to memorise key historical dates or complicated formulas, in the real world they’ll be able to access that through smartphones in minutes – should exams reflect this change?
  • Reduce the use of paper – For the environmentally conscious, moving exams online represents a significant opportunity to reduce the amount of paper used and have a positive environmental impact.

Drawbacks of online exams

Of course, on the flipside, there are drawbacks too.

  • Managing use of the internet – While it can be argued that internet access should be allowed during the exam, it will still need to be monitored either way. A student who is excellent at researching online, for example could score better than a pupil who has a far better grasp on the subject matter if internet access was not effectively managed.
  • Risk of cybersecurity – Recent cybersecurity attacks have proven that no organisation is safe. Should exams move online it should be expected they’ll be targeted and investment would be needed to mitigate this risk.
  • Potential for computer errors – Everyone has experienced the feeling of dread when their computer unexpectedly crashes or faces an error. Imagine that happening in an exam. Technology might have advanced, but it can still be unpredictable at times.
  • Access to necessary equipment – School would need to have access to and a setup that allows computers to be used for exams, it could mean needing to invest in further equipment or affecting the work of other pupils. Additionally, not all schools have access to the same level of equipment and this could offer unfair advantages, for example, newer computers that run faster could have a significant impact on the ability to research.

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