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Feature: Time Up, Pens Down


fleet street travel The familiar words uttered at the end of exams may soon become an echo in the past. Assessment on demand, instant feedback and speedy identification of knowledge gaps, Michael Brannick, president of Thomson Prometric looks at the future for e-assessment.

The days of paper-and-pencil exams may soon be over for vocational exams according to a major research study, ‘Drivers and Barriers to the Adoption of e-Assessment for UK Awarding Bodies’*, from Thomson Prometric. The research, which is backed by the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the regulator for the UK public examination system, is the first independently commissioned, objective survey into the UK’s awarding bodies’ views and plans for e-Assessment.

The research revealed that 84% of the UK’s awarding bodies believe that e-assessment is more, or equally as robust, as traditional paper-and-pencil delivery. The research also showed that 26% of the awarding body survey respondents are currently delivering an e-assessment programme. Of the remaining 74%, nearly half are currently developing or piloting an online testing programme.

So what does this mean for employees who are taking exams? Over the next few years, we’re undoubtedly going to see an increasing number of exams offered in an electronic format for many qualifications from marketing, to management, to IT, to hospitality. In fact the QCA has set an objective for all awarding bodies to be able to e-assess by 2009.

E-assessment opens up access to assessment on demand and provides learners with greater choice and flexibility of how they take exams. E-assessments can be arranged around work commitments and taken at a time convenient to the student. Exam candidates no longer need to wait for a suitable date and time, or travel long distances to exam centres. Exams can also be taken when a student is ready rather than feeling pressured to sit an exam he or she is not fully prepared for.

Marking of exams is quicker and more accurate than traditional paper-and-pencil tests, which means employees only need to wait a few days for results rather than weeks or months. In fact e-assessment can even facilitate instant feedback. In some cases, upon completion of the exam, results are instantly presented on-screen and confirmation printed. This means that the often agonising wait for results to come weeks after taking the exam is no longer a problem.

In addition, post-test results can be used to help the candidate identify strengths and weaknesses so that they can address skill gaps straight away, which helps to improve the learning process. Training administrators can also review results to see where there may be faults in the student’s training programme, which can then be addressed right away.

Some trainers have also reported that e-assessment can take the fear factor out of exams and can help to improve attendance levels. Removing tests from a formal classroom environment can help make candidates feel more comfortable about the exam process.

Security is often a worry when it comes to exam papers, but e-assessment is now recognised as the most secure delivery method available, outperforming the protection offered by its paper-and-pencil counterpart. Testing solutions available on the market today can offer multiple levels of security for both the examination data and the candidate. For example, there is often the option to use digital photos or fingerprints to authenticate candidates.

The future
For most exam candidates, computers are a part of everyday life and so taking exams on a computer is a natural progression. Students who are unable to type quickly aren’t at a disadvantage since questions can be written in a multiple-choice format, or can contain simulations to test understanding of the curriculum. And as future school and college leavers enter the workforce, e-assessment may well become expected since these students will have used computers extensively throughout their education, and in addition they may have been ‘e-assessed’ when they sat their GCSE and A-level exams.

E-assessment may soon become the norm for thousands of adult learners. However, for the technophobes amongst us, coaching and familiarisation sessions will be available. But with QCA’s pending deadline and with the many benefits that it has to offer in terms of accessibility and flexibility, the future looks very bright for e-assessment.

*With 67% of all recognised Awarding Bodies interviewed, QCA and FAB acknowledge this report as the most comprehensive research available. ‘Drivers and Barriers to the Adoption of e-Assessment for UK Awarding Bodies’ is available in its entirety at

Michael Brannick can be contacted at [email protected]


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