What is an Online Exam Platform?

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Over the past 25 or so years, the internet has had a big impact on how we do things.  From online shopping and booking tickets to events, to outsourcing IT-related services and telling us about the hottest new restaurant in our area and how to get there.

The internet has also enabled us to get services traditionally reserved for offline brick-and-mortar or phone services, like renting movies, booking a plane ticket, or getting an education. While online learning, or e-learning, has been around since the dawn of the internet in some shape or form, it has grown in popularity at a surprisingly slow pace. 

Up to fairly recently only a handful of institutions offered distance learning online, however, the social distancing measures enforced in the wake of COVID-19 has forced learning institutions to start offering classes and exams online.

Let’s take a look at online exam platforms: what they are, how they work, why they’re better than pen-and-paper exams, as well as many other benefits of using assessment software.

What is an online exam platform?

Online exams are exactly what the name suggests — assessments that are conducted online via the web using purpose-designed, fully-automated online exam platforms. Similar to paper exams, online exams have time limits. However, where paper exams generally have an overall time limit, most online exams have per-question time limits to limit cheating, and provide auto-evaluations that allow for near instant results. Compared to online exams, traditional pen-and-paper exams have several drawbacks.

The lady with grey hair in a yellow sweater is using an online exam platform at home.

How do online exams work?

Pen-and-paper exams are pretty straight-forward; they get printed, distributed to exam halls, handed out to candidates or learners, who then complete them within a set time limit. The exams then get collected, evaluated by hand, and results are posted. This process can take anywhere from days to weeks for students to get their results.

Online exams work a little differently:

1. First the online exam platform is set up by a joint effort from the university as well as the e-assessment team. The questions are then created by the lecturers.

2. Once the online exam environment is ready, learner or candidate information is uploaded and they are sent links according to time slots set in the environment.

3. Test-takers access the links to log in and take the test, while AI proctors monitor the exams. Online exams are usually recorded for security reasons and to ensure academic integrity.

4. When the candidate or learner has completed the exam, they submit it for evaluation. Since evaluation is automatic, results are near-instant. These can be emailed to the exam-taker.

5. Once all the candidates and learners have completed the exam, it can be analysed to identify potential issues, which can then be addressed. Data collected during the exam provides vital feedback to improve the exams, year after year.

Where pen-and-paper exams lack…

Traditional pen-and-paper exams have several drawbacks compared to online exams:

1. High cost of production & logistics – Paper exams need to be printed out and sent to exam locations, and sometimes back to evaluation centres, all of which take time and cost money.

2. Can’t reach all areas with ease – In addition to distribution costs, there is also a geographical limit to where paper exams can be distributed. It may be harder, and take more time, to send exam papers to far-flung, remote areas.

3. Security issues – Because paper exams are physical and often produced in high volumes, it’s easy for one or two to go missing, which could potentially lead to cheating. It is not uncommon for exams to ‘leak’ before the exam date.

4. High turnaround time – Once exams have been completed they need to be physically evaluated. This can take a lot of time, especially with high-volume exams like university assessments. Since the exams need to be evaluated physically, there’s an extra human resources cost involved.

5. Managing invigilators – Cheating is almost as old as time itself. To curb this during pen-and-paper assessments, invigilators need to be appointed, managed, and paid.

A person using a pencil is filling out an exam form with multiple-choice questions.

…Online exams more than make up for

Online exams have distinct advantages over pen-and-paper exams:

1. Extensive repository of questions & past exams

One of the big advantages that online assessments have over pen-and-paper exams is the storage of questions. Once a question has been entered into an exam it can be stored in a database and can be linked to certain skill levels or grades for future use. What’s more, past exams can also be stored as a reference for setting up new ones. This can be a massive time-saver for examiners.

2. Exams are marked automatically and instantly

As soon as a candidate or learner submits their online exams, it is immediately marked and evaluated. This means the exam-taker can get their results almost instantly. A report can be generated to give the exam-taker specifics about the exam, what questions they answered correctly and which they didn’t. Keep in mind that not ALL questions can be auto-evaluated as some answers require interpretation by an examiner, however, with the constant advances in machine learning and AI, auto-evaluation of questions is bound to become a reality.

3. Easy scaling

A common issue for examiners of pen-and-paper exams is how many to print. What’s more, the cost of printing high-volume assessment papers can be quite high. Since online assessments are computer-based, scaling is as simple as increasing or decreasing the number of exam-takers at any given point. There is no printing cost and no paper use, or in the case of too many papers having been printed, paper waste.

4. Cheaper to set up and distribute

As mentioned before, one of the drawbacks of pen-and-paper exams is that papers need to be printed and physically distributed. This can take a lot of time and cost a lot of money, not to mention the potential security risk of papers getting ‘leaked’ along the way. Online exam platforms negate virtually all of these issues. While there are costs involved in setting up the assessments on online exam platforms, it is minimal compared to printing and physical distribution. Once set up, a simple email from the examiner delivers the exam ‘paper’ to however many exam-takers they’d like.

5. Distribution to remote locations

Where pen-and-paper exams may face geographical barriers that can limit distribution, the only requirement for online examinations is a computer and an internet connection. That said, some locations are so remote that they do not have internet access, however, examination centers with access to computers and the internet are of-ten set up in these instances.

A young blonde lady is participating in a digital meeting with 6 other people using two computers together with her dog.

Online learning has been taking off due to advances in technology, as well as a necessity due to COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, the use of online exam platforms has also spiked, but despite the pandemic, it’s easy to see why. Online exam platforms provide secure, scalable, and highly flexible examination solutions that are easy to set up and manage, and that provide exam-takers with instant results and feedback.

Read more about the 4 essential features to look for in an enterprise exam platform.

Download a free e-book and unlock the full potential of online assessment. You will learn how e-assessment can help you to deliver fair exams, combat cheating and optimise your entire learning process.

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Cristina Gilbert
Copywriter and digital content enthusiast, Cristina is motivated by the fast-paced world of e-assessment and the opportunities online exams give students to thrive.
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