The changing technology of exams
Conducting exams on a rented computer has grown exponentially, with temporary equipment set up on any selected site before the exam and taken down on completion.
Remember writing your exams "way back when" on hard-copy exam papers, with a ballpoint pen and a tube of Tippex on standby? Examiners had to decipher handwriting, manually record results, and transport and store papers. What about the times they had to reprint papers because of errors and leaks!
It's hard to believe that in the age of tech innovation in 2020, exams are mostly written in the same way.
Computer-based examinations allow results to be instantly submitted, new exams to be distributed at the click of a button, results to be calculated electronically, and detailed statistics to provide a multitude of opportunities to enhance learning. It also emulates the real world that learners step into.
Of course, there are challenges with computer-based exams, such as lack of funding, of skills to deploy, and of access to expensive technology.
An experienced adopter of the use of technology in the exam process is the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA). It took a leap of faith four years ago and since then, has continuously pushed boundaries to perfect its use of technology to not only serve the exam process, but also the students writing and submitting these critical papers.
Firstly, the risks of making this change had to be assessed. And, let's face it, actuaries understand risk! With the actuarial degree being one of the world's most sought-after and the profession being one of the most highly remunerated ones, there can simply be no compromise. There is zero tolerance for error when it comes to the following:
Costs - It is not feasible to buy hundreds of computers for students to write exams twice a year.
Technology - Software has to be intuitive and fail-safe. The cloud has many offerings, but what about connectivity?
Logistics - How do these get set up on time? An exam date cannot be moved. The location also changes, and it is a logistical challenge getting ready for every exam.
Risks - What happens when tech fails? Load-shedding, computer crashes, failure to save data, theft and damage are all real risks.
Identification - The submitted results need to be matched to a candidate.
Writing on paper sounds a lot safer! However, this did not deter the ASSA, which persisted in developing a solution. Working with Go Rentals and Wordprint, the ASSA has successfully completed computerised exams for thousands of students. Rented computers are deployed to any venue in the country, already prepared and tested.
"The Actuarial Science exam requires complete focus," says Maryvonne Palanduz, the Operations Executive of the ASSA. "The student cannot afford any distractions, such as tech failures. The choice of our technology service provider is one we take extremely seriously. The exam must happen on the day, and all risks need to be anticipated to ensure that the exam goes ahead."
In the past few years, the trend of exams being conducted on a rented computer in SA has grown exponentially, with temporary equipment set up on any selected site before the examinations and taken down on completion.
If you are considering it yourself, Ron Keschner, Director at Go Rentals, provides some technical tips:
- Quality: Use good quality, business-grade equipment. We always suggest the Tier 1 brands (Dell, Lenovo and HP).
- Preparation and testing: All software should be preloaded. All hardware must be tested, including mice and keyboards. Test the whole set-up (including network and server) before deploying to site. Don't leave troubleshooting to the day.
- Spare hardware: Make sure enough backup hardware is available in the event of damage (or theft). This includes laptops, servers and switches. Ensure that it is hot-swappable.
- Capacity: Ensure service providers have the capacity to deliver and have their own contingency planning for risks such as theft, along with extra staff.
- Standardise: Standardise the entire set-up to increase efficiency and reduce technical costs.
- Support: Ensure that you have technical support on hand, and a predetermined plan for each support type and risk.
- Health and safety: Ensure proper electrical installation and cable safety.
- Power: Make sure the exam can continue without power.
- Time: Venues cost money, and often you do not have the luxury of set-up times. Ensure you have left yourself enough time to set up. Prepare everything in advance.
"Doing all of this yourself is massively expensive," adds Keschner. "However, it is very achievable using the right service provider which has economies of scale."