Technology in Exams Scaling new Frontiers

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One of the first instances of high-stake Computer Based Tests (CBT) in the country was seen in 2003 and since then, various exams boards have adopted CBT mainly for their entrance examinations, writes Ravi Panchanadan, Chief Executive Officer, MeritTrac Services

Ravi_Panchanadan (2)

Ravi Panchanadan
Chief Executive Officer, MeritTrac Services

During the last couple of decades, the world has undergone a massive transformation with increasing impact of technology in almost every aspect of life. The practices we adopted in our lives previously have become obsolete. We are witnessing new methods becoming the norm.

In these Changing times, education has witnessed a massive transformation in most parts of the world and India is no exception. Universities delivering classes online, thereby negating the limitation of time and space in education delivery, has been a paradigm shift leading to introduction of new scalable models. The evolution of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is democratising high quality education and making knowledge available for masses.

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Examinations, a critical aspect determining success of education, have also undergone transformation. One of the first instances of high-stake Computer Based Tests (CBT) in the country was witnessed in 2003 and since then, various exams boards have adopted CBT mainly for their entrance examinations.

IIM CAT entrance exam is the one of the first national level high-stake exam that went online in the country. Its initial hiccups had almost stalled the progress made in adoption of Computer Based Tests in India, but the successful comeback it made in 2010 gave confidence for more and more examination boards in the country to adopt Computer Based Tests.

In 2010, MeritTrac, along with EDGE and Value Notes organised a study designed to learn views on introduction of technology in examinations. With less than 10 examination bodies having embarked on transformation using technology, it was important to understand the industry’s views on leveraging technology in future. The study was administered on the key stakeholders in the education system – exam authorities and students.

The study revealed that around 68% of Indian examination bodies had concrete plans to leverage technology in examinations, with specific reference to Computer Based Examinations. The key priorities for these universities were the need to increase the speed of result processing, transparency and security of high-stake examinations whileover 75% student’s perceived transparency as a major benefit. Over 68% of them also believed that computer based tests will offer accurate and timely results. While the major stakeholders were looking forward to the migration, 62% of the respondents had concerns over the availability and quality of infrastructure.

Changes over last 5 years Since this research, Indian education system has witnessed a massive migration from paper-based test to CBT. Transformations embarked by some of the large exam bodies have offered confidence for others to follow. Today over 100 examination bodies have migrated their entrance examinations to CBT. While the 2010 MeritTrac research predicted a massive shift, we are all ‘stumped’ by the pace of this transformation. With the recent UGC directive mandating universities to adopt technology for admissions, this number is expected to be increase further.

A few factors have led to this fast paced migration:

  • Changing mind-set – Openness to leverage technology for several high-stake initiatives have given education administrators the confidence todeliver various facets of education also using technology. Examinations was only a logical extension to this.
  • Improved infrastructure – Today, India is one of the fastest growing internet markets. The expanse of computer infrastructure to the last mile – villages and other rural areas has fostered the possibility of making computer based exams inclusive. Gone are the days when technology was limited to the geographical boundaries that divided cities from villages. Government’s emphasis on reaching broadband into villages will further enhance the possibilities of computer based exams.
  • Rise of ‘Digital Natives’ – It is understood that digital natives are natural adopters of technology. The increasing use of mobiles and access to internet have extended the possibilities of computer based exams in the country. Candidates have greater understanding of technology and hence are not flustered in computer labs. l
  • Growing need for transparency & security – With increasing population and stakes, there is a greater demand for improving transparency and security of examinations. It is well accepted that technology could play a critical role in assisting examination bodies in achieving its goal of secure, transparent and high quality examinations.
  • Technology advancement and reduction in IT costs– Technology is today designed for greater scale and operational efficiencies. With it CBT has become viable for most examination boards. Moreover, its benefits easily outweigh the cost and technology implications.
    Yet, the use of technology in examinations have till been limited to entrance examinations. Most of the vast majority of other examinations – summative / term-end examinations are still following traditional models exposing itself to inefficiencies and security threats.

Technology for Summative Exams
Summative_ExamThe next big technology revolution in examinations is On- Screen Marking (OSM), also referred to as ‘Digital Evaluation’. A few large examination boards in the country have already adopted this technology and reaped rich benefits. OSM has allowed examination bodies to enhance quality of evaluation of descriptive answer scripts while making it transparent and secure. They have also succeeded in publishing results faster. Ability of this technology to allow evaluators to evaluate from home also leads to greater convenience for the examination body and its evaluators. This is a technology that has been widely used in most developed countries. The initial success of OSM in India will definitely have a ripple effect in the country.
Large and prestigious examination bodies have been looking for solutions that can help make their exams secure, transparent and efficient. One of the biggest challenges with these high-stake exams is that they are vulnerable to risks and frauds. Ensuring security of question paper has been a priority for these examination bodies. Question paper printing, transit and storage have traditionally been vulnerable to leak and exposure. These instances could lead to reputational risks and legal challenges.

So, how can technology help these examinations become more secure?

Today over 100 examination bodies have migrated their entrance examinations to Computer Based Tests (CBT). With the recent UGC directive mandating universities to adopt technology for admissions, this number is expected to be increase further

Just-in-Time Question Paper (JIT-QP) management – a process of managing question paper security with application of technology, will ensure that question papers are not exposed till the time of examination. The question bank managed by the examination body generates question papers which are accessible at the test centre by ONLY the designated official minutes before the examination. The solution prints the exact number of question papers as required in the centre under surveillance, thereby ensuring its security. This technology coupled with the OSM service has already helped a state university in administering secure exams and speed up turn-around of results.

After the successful adoption of CBT, OSM and JIT-QP management are the next big transformations that we will witness in the India. With increased fairness, security, transparency and faster turn-around time, students will be the greatest beneficiaries of this introduction of technology.

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