So many of us, when we hear the word exams (in addition to sharing that all too familiar feeling of anxiety), picture blank sheets of paper waiting on rows of single desks lining an echoey hall, the sound of a clock ticking loudly at the front. Whilst this has been the established format for as long as there have been exams, all may be set to change…
Covid and the global pandemic have changed many things but, when it comes to education, it has completely revolutionised the systems used by schools, colleges and universities for communicating with students, delivering learning and assessing achievement. And, whilst students may have returned to classrooms up and down the country, many of the changes implemented look set to stick around and change the way that learning looks for good. So, when it comes to exams, the traditional exam halls and paper tests may become a thing of the past.
There are a number of examination boards – including two of the biggies, AQA and OCR – running trials of digital assessments in a range of subjects, with candidates taking assessments solely online. The aim is that online assessment will be a way to ensure improved fairness in the awarding of grades and, possibly, offer faster and more accurate marking. Whilst some assessments have been available online since 2017, the suggestion is that online assessments will be standard from as early as 2025. In addition, boards are considering the use of ‘smart assessments’ that will adapt, question by question, to the student’s ability as demonstrated in their responses, thus eliminating the need for any tiered papers and allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in their own way in the allocated time.
Furthermore, many university students are calling for digital assessments to remain in place without the return to traditional in-person exams. The advantages of digital learning have included mental health benefits for many students who have reported less anxiety around assessments and discussions surrounding different approaches to learning recognise the many strengths of an approach that incorporates the technologies currently available. Hybrid or blended learning looks set to become the norm.
However, whilst the benefits of learning and being assessed in this way have been acknowledged, those involved in the decision making appreciate that there are many factors at play and issues relating to equality and the systems used must be considered carefully. Whilst it is clear that assessment boards will continue to investigate and invest in the technologies required for online assessment, the need for the roll-out to be done properly and regulated appropriately is at the forefront of any changes that are likely to happen.