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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced educational institutions to re-think in-person learning and move to the online learning sphere. Pen-and-paper examinations are still the standard, and preferred, way of communication among many ‘traditional’ educational institutions. However, with global conditions as they are, they have been forced to look at online examinations as a solution.

 

What is an online examination?

online examinations

An online examination is exactly what it says, it’s an online system by which learners can be assed. It is similar to written exams in many ways, but in others, it’s completely different. Online examinations have many advantages, but also a number of disadvantages.

 

Advantages

1. Environmentally friendly

One of the biggest, yet indirect advantages of online examinations is the impact it has on the environment. Pen-and-paper examinations require a lot of paper to print question and answer sheets. There is also a lot of waste due to printing errors or over-estimation of learner numbers, not to mention the carbon footprint of the logistics around getting the papers to and from examination locations. It’s simple, online examinations are the most environmentally friendly assessment option.

2. Saves you money

Online examinations also save you money in so many ways. Since everything is online, there are no printing costs and no logistics costs. You also save money on examination facilities and having to pay facilitators and invigilators to oversee the exams. Online examinations still require some expenses like admin, email distribution systems, online proctoring, and IT support, but it’s dramatically less than that of pen-and-paper exams.

3. Saves time, big time

Online exams are a big time saver. Not only is there less time between the setting of the ‘paper’, but it also saves students time by eliminating the time it takes to travel to-and from examination locations, then waiting for the papers to be handed out and collected. Since most online examinations use auto-grading, teachers don’t have to spend excessive amounts of time marking exam papers, and students get their results almost instantly. What’s more, issues can also be flagged immediately with examiners who have immediate access to all the papers at once.

4. Plugged into technology

In the past, the more people who took an exam, the bigger the challenge to facilitate it. Online examinations make it super easy to scale. Setting up an exam for 1,000 people takes almost the same amount of effort as it is to set up an exam for 10 people. Another advantage of the tech-centric nature of online exams is that the more online exams people take, the more they get used to the concept and the more comfortable they get with it.

5. More secure, less cheating

Security has always been a challenge with exams, especially with high profile exams like bar exams, SATs, or college, and university final exams. With online exams, there are fewer chances of leaks since there are no physical papers that can go missing during the printing and logistics process. An added security benefit is that examiners can make use of question banks that select questions at random. This means that almost no two exams are the same, further minimizing the chances of cheating.

6. It’s convenient

One of the biggest advantages of online examinations is the convenience factor. Examiners can set papers using question banks, and by consulting a database of previous papers, then easily upload it to the examination system. Students can select exam times that suit them best and since the exams are online, do it from almost anywhere (proctored exams may have certain requirements). Students can get their results almost immediately, a big plus. Also, as mentioned above, online examinations scale extremely easily, making it convenient for course administrators to set up exams.

 

Disadvantages

1. Challenges of tech

While the tech side of online examinations is a big advantage, it can also pose some challenges. The transition from traditional pen-and-paper to online may be difficult for some, especially older learners who are not computer literate. The transition may also initially take time as examiners need to get used to the system and find ways to use it most efficiently. Some learners and examiners may simply be resistant to change.

2. Infrastructure problems

One of the biggest hurdles of online examinations is learner access to technology, including computers/tablets and/or a stable internet connection. This aspect of online examinations can be especially challenging for learners in rural areas. Infrastructure challenges can negate many of the advantages of online examinations like cost and convenience since examination locations need to be set up, times set and facilitators hired.

3. Not all grading is the same

Instant or near-instant grading is a big advantage of online examinations, however, not all types of exams lend themselves to auto-assessment. Questions that involve some sort of interpretation and questions with longer answers most often require someone to read and grade the answers. However, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning will make auto-grading of even these types of questions possible.

4. Susceptible to cheating

No matter what platform an exam is taken on, whether it be online or traditional pen-and-paper, there will always be cheating. However, online examinations can be especially vulnerable to cheating like screen sharing with other exam-takers, doing online searches during the exam, or plugging in an external drive with answers. Different exam times also mean that there’s a chance that students who had already taken the exam might share answers with those yet to take the exam. Two ways of curbing cheating on online exams are through online proctoring and using a question bank to randomize questions so that no two exams are the same.

5. Group projects, collaborative evaluations, and vocational examinations

Not all examinations are simple question and answer. Some courses require evaluation of collaborative or group projects or evaluation through a vocational exam that can’t be taken online. These types of exams require personal subjective evaluation, something which online examinations can’t offer.


There are pros and cons to every type of examination system, and each educational institution should evaluate the different systems to see which will better meet their specific needs. While it’s easy for institutions to stick with traditional pen-and-paper exams, global events have forced the education industry to rethink how they operate. Online examinations have many advantages, and as technology keeps improving, these advantages continue to grow and soon online examinations will become the standard for course evaluation.