Poised for nationwide adoption

Updated: November 17, 2014 1:26 AM

Having a presence in the world’s second-largest economy has come to seem indispensable for ambitious business schools

The global transition from print to digital is permeating every aspect of the education system, and it appears that filling tedious and cumbersome OMR sheets for competitive exams will soon be a thing of the past. Indian institutions of higher education are aspiring to meet global standards in student recruitment and assessment in the race to set themselves apart from their competition and make themselves attractive to aspiring candidates.

In recent years, several high-stake competitive exams have been marred by allegations of cheating/proxy testing and, as a result, an increasing number of institutions in India are choosing to invest in computer-based testing, instead of the archaic paper-and-pencil format. In fact, almost every aspirational, high-stake examination in India now gives students the option of a computer-based test. Though some institutes have faced initial problems with migrating to computer-based testing, most of them have managed to overcome the problems.

Computer-based testing has come a long way in India and a number of factors are contributing to this trend. A recent study found that India led the Asia Pacific nations in annual internet user growth, which is in the region of 28%. Moreover, the initial level of discomfort with computers has now largely been overcome in smaller towns and cities. In fact, computer-based tests are correctly perceived to be more fair, hassle-free and reliable and, of course, user-friendly. Though some tests such as the GRE have been computer-based since the 1990s, the focus has now shifted from mere standardisation and certification to building a complete delivery model that encompasses preparation, testing and assessment.

Computer-based testing is the best way to eliminate the scope for human error or bias in grading answers and hence improves the quality and reliability of the test. Apart from this, it also allows for large amounts of test and student data to be securely stored and analysed so that the quality of future tests can be improved. There is also the scope for more flexible scheduling and less logistical hassles as location and timing become much more accessible. Not only has it proved to be much more convenient and comfortable for the test taker and the conductor, but the results can also be made available immediately or within a short time, which saves time for thinking through applications. Computerisation of tests is cost-effective for host institutes and provides them with the best option to ensure fair scoring across many candidates.
The transition from paper-based to computer-based testing needs to be smooth and hassle free in order to earn the trust and confidence of candidates. A case in point, students often juggle multiple competitive examinations at the same time. The testing procedure can be made easier by offering them a wide window for registration and test-taking.

Security is another, equally important aspect of computer-based tests. High-stake exams can be life-changing experiences for test-takers. A reliable testing agency must invest in security systems, people and procedures and implement safeguards that provide Indian students fair and accurate scores, free from scores gained by cheating, which unfairly comprises the diligent work of honest candidates and removes prejudice from the process. A good testing agency must also rely on psychometricians (preferably India-based) and managers who will ensure fair and secure exam questions and answers at the item-writing level and that all content and data are accurately and securely accessed, stored and transferred.

There is a lot to learn from the experience of countries where computer-based testing is widely practised. The benefits include the assurance that exam programmes are performing within acceptable statistical parameters while providing feedback from candidates and testing institutions that help refine the programme to make it better. Global knowledge and test programme management experience can transform computer-based testing in India into a quantitative science.

As a nation, it is a reality that there are varying levels of familiarity with computers amongst students. Since learning in India is still primarily through books and physical libraries, adapting to the computer-based testing model requires test-takers to be well-prepared for the migration.

That is why it is important to include a tutorial before the main examination. It provides greater comfort and ease to the process, allowing candidates to focus on proving their knowledge rather than how to use the system.

Tests of the future will increasingly become technology-based. The sustainable benefits of fairness, accuracy, convenience and security validate the initial costs of migrating to the new infrastructure.

By Soumitra Roy
The author is general manager, Global Business Development, Prometric Testing Services

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