Traditional paper-based exams are likely to be replaced by computer-based methods within the next 10 to 15 years, according to the head of an influential umbrella organisation for international exam boards.
Simon Lebus, chief executive at Cambridge Assessment, told The Guardian yesterday that computer-based exams are "not science fiction", and that exam boards are already investing millions in developing the necessary technology.
Cambridge Assessment is a department of Cambridge University that supports international exam boards including OCR, one of the three that operates in England.
"By the end of that period of time you will be able to do exams more or less on demand, on screen," said Lebus.
He suggested that the technology could enhance the way students engage with subject matter, and provide continuous electronic assessment throughout a course that would enable testing to be tailored to an individual's skills level.
Roger Rawlinson, managing director of assurance at IT consulting firm NCC Group, largely agreed with the prediction that computerised testing is inevitable.
NCC Group works with the government's Building Schools for the Future programme to introduce more IT into education as part of a nationwide schools refurbishment initiative.
Rawlinson suggested that more technology use in the classroom and everyday life makes the move to electronic exams likely "whether we like or not".
"The traditional arguments about computerisation apply here," he said. "Like any system, it will have to prove that the person taking the test is who they say they are, especially if it's online, and to secure access to the data so that you can approve who accesses it and when."
However, given the possible life-changing nature of exams, Rawlinson also stressed that public confidence in the systems used to assess students will be particularly important.
"The systems will need to demonstrate security through robust design and absolutely comprehensive and fundamental testing," he said, adding that such procedures through the procurement process might have avoided the recent QCA SATS testing disasters.
OCR has piloted a fully electronically assessed GCSE in environmental and land-based science since 2007. Around 1,800 candidates at 80 schools and colleges will take the exam this summer.
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