Share this article:


For several years now computers have been heralded to replace the traditional pen and paper exam format, however the rate of adoption has been varied at best! Some sectors and even countries have fully embraced the new technology, while for others, such as the UK, the uptake has been slower than predicted – particularly for high stakes summative exams.

So with technology advancing at an exponential rate, why are paper exams still taken?

Well in some cases, paper exams are a tried and tested format that consistently delivers. So why change what isn’t broken?

For others the main barriers to change seem to be concerns with hardware and technical difficulties. Hardware can be an issue for many organisations reluctant to invest in purchasing devices for every student; devices that are often only used for a short period of time and rendered obsolete within a few years. Many organisations are therefore encouraging the use of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ or BYOD. This does have its own challenges such as managing disparate devices and operating systems.

Technical difficulties such as connectivity and ensuring there are enough dedicated electrical sockets can similarly cause issues for already overstretched IT departments. Although many digital or online exams can actually be run offline!

Another reason is that not all examination types can easily be adapted to the digital world.  Exams requiring diagrams or graphs to be drawn are a perfect example, as are exams which mix different types of questions. However multiple choice type exams, in which respondents are asked to select the best possible answer (or answers) from a predetermined list of choices, do lend themselves perfectly to electronic exams.

The advantages of running exams online easily outweigh any inconveniences.

For organisations who want to digitize the workflow and reduce paper consumption and spending on printed materials, online exams are ideal. No more logistical problems with the delivery and collection of papers to manage.

Administration and security do bring their own challenges, but marking can be easier and faster therefore allowing exams to be more frequent and shorter. Flexibility and ease of use are other pluses. As a result, technology adoption for higher education is growing rapidly.

Online exam systems, like Speedwell’s eSystem, also allow for real time monitoring, audit trails and immediate feedback with standard comments for wrong answers inputted beforehand.

Questions can be randomised and browsers can be ‘locked down’ to prevent cheating and communication between students.

Most of today’s students are adept and comfortable with technology.

Although there have been arguments that the less digitally competent students may be at a disadvantage. Generally however for the majority of students, it is faster to type than fill out an MCQ paper by hand and there are less opportunities for marking errors (too dark or too light marking which an OMR scanner may struggle to pick up).  Although it has been noted that it is harder for students to scan through an online exam before starting.

To help you choose the format that is right for you, please contact us.