Calls for an end to pen and paper tests


Computerised exams should replace ‘outdated’ pen and paper tests for a generation used to digital learning, plus the exam system should be completely overhauled, the outgoing chief of Ofqual has said.

Isabel Nisbet said the continued use of traditional writing materials would soon make GCSEs and A-levels ‘invalid’ because ‘technology-savvy’ pupils are no longer used to using them.

She said she fears that if school exams do not go online soon then exam preparation will become a separate thing to learning for candidates used to working on computers.

“They use IT as their natural medium for identifying and exploring new issues and deepening their knowledge,” she writes in the TES.

“Yet we are even now accrediting new GCSEs, due to run for several years, which are still taken largely on paper.

“This cannot go on. Our school exams are running the risk of becoming invalid, as their medium of pen and ink increasingly differs from the way in which youngsters learn.”

Exam boards AQA and Edexcel have backed her call for reform.

Edexcel managing director Ziggy Liaquat said: “Technology has the potential to transform education by making its delivery more personalised, efficient and effective and more transparent and secure.

“The examination system is yet to fully realise this potential.”

But authors and educationalists said it would lead to the demise of the important art of handwriting and increase cheating.

Errors in marking due to a new online computer marking system led to candidates at one in four schools being given the wrong grades last summer.

Miss Nisbet told the Times Education Supplement: ‘Pupils use IT as their natural medium for identifying and exploring new issues and deepening their knowledge.’

But assessment expert Professor Alan Smithers said: ‘This illustrates the bubble that our examiners exist in. They are influenced by the quantity of exam marking, rather than the quality.’

Examination Officers’ Association chief executive Andrew Harland said computerisation would revolutionise the system.

“The technology just speeds the whole process up, reduces human error and could allow instantaneous responses and grades.”

But OCR chief executive Mark Dawe, said moving GCSEs and A- levels online would take some time.

“How do you ensure that there is fairness across every centre in the country? All the networks have got to be robust, every learner has to have access to a computer of the same speed because what if one takes twice as long to recognise typing as another?

“You have got to install security - there are real challenges about general exams being done by IT.”

Currently, the three exam boards - Edexcel, AQA and OCR - offer only a small number of papers online.

Handwritten scripts are, however, widely scanned onto computers and marked on-screen.

February 2011

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