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General Chat Thread, BBC News: 'Online tests to replace paper exams within a decade' in General; Originally Posted by LosOjos We average 250 students in Y11, assuming they go by the same rules as current they'd ...
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    Quote Originally Posted by LosOjos View Post
    We average 250 students in Y11, assuming they go by the same rules as current they'd all have to sit at the same time (so they can't walk out of the exam and tell their mates the answers).

    What happens if the network (internal or external) goes down? It has been known to happen... entire country has to resit the exam?
    or if its online some body decides to hack in and change/delete all the papers?

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    localzuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by happymeal View Post
    You wouldn't need that - and it's perfectly do-able.

    I work for a certain exam provider that has several testing centers across the UK, and we run several theory tests as well as IT tests, medical tests, etc.

    Our test centers run anywhere between 5-30 machines, with CCTV in the exam rooms, and 3 invigilators. The PC's are locked down during the test and it makes it near impossible to exit the test without an invigilator there.

    The other test centers run in a similar fashion - depending on the test they'll have either CCTV or just invigilators walking the floor.

    It could easily run off a workgroup or a server scenario - depending on the environment.
    Testing 30 people is not the same as testing 200 at the same time. Why the same time? Because you don't want the first batch telling the others the questions when they get out of the exam. They have to be the same questions too, else it isn't a fair test.

    So, you have to run them simultaneously.

    Not many schools can run 200 computers, invigilated and in exam conditions/layout.

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    AMLightfoot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk View Post
    Testing 30 people is not the same as testing 200 at the same time. Why the same time? Because you don't want the first batch telling the others the questions when they get out of the exam. They have to be the same questions too, else it isn't a fair test.

    So, you have to run them simultaneously.

    Not many schools can run 200 computers, invigilated and in exam conditions/layout.
    So the only way it would happen is to have invigilators in each classroom and the year group would be split between the invigilated classrooms.

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    Largest I've seen was 150 candidates for SAS (no, not THEM), where candidates came in, were seated down, and the tests launched from the Admin's PC. Once the candidate finished, they were moved out of the test area, and once the exams started at that time had finished, they brought in the next load. You may need to use a few rooms, but then again, you're doing that anyway for written tests.

    Look at the Driving Agency tests as an example. 45 mins per test - each session is staggered so that the candidates are seated within 5-10 mins, tests are started and then end, and 5 mins to clear them out. Next session can then begin.

    The exams are usually encrypted and downloaded to either the Admin desk or the server, and the kit we use downloads at least 3 days worth in advance (In case of a site losing Internet connectivity for a few days). If the local network goes down then yes - it's a problem. The exams are usually saved as they answer each question - it would be a case (and this is a rare occasion, where you've checked everything works, started the test, and it's gone down) of stopping, getting network connectivity back up, and resuming the test.

    And I'm guessing there's a level of security on the machines (ie turning off RDP services, telnet, and messenging?) to prevent sneaky attempts at proxy testing/passing info.

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    sonofsanta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by happymeal View Post
    Largest I've seen was 150 candidates for SAS (no, not THEM), where candidates came in, were seated down, and the tests launched from the Admin's PC. Once the candidate finished, they were moved out of the test area, and once the exams started at that time had finished, they brought in the next load. You may need to use a few rooms, but then again, you're doing that anyway for written tests.

    Look at the Driving Agency tests as an example. 45 mins per test - each session is staggered so that the candidates are seated within 5-10 mins, tests are started and then end, and 5 mins to clear them out. Next session can then begin.

    The exams are usually encrypted and downloaded to either the Admin desk or the server, and the kit we use downloads at least 3 days worth in advance (In case of a site losing Internet connectivity for a few days). If the local network goes down then yes - it's a problem. The exams are usually saved as they answer each question - it would be a case (and this is a rare occasion, where you've checked everything works, started the test, and it's gone down) of stopping, getting network connectivity back up, and resuming the test.

    And I'm guessing there's a level of security on the machines (ie turning off RDP services, telnet, and messenging?) to prevent sneaky attempts at proxy testing/passing info.
    So continuing my worst case example, 360 kids - we have 4 IT rooms of 30 computers, so we'd need to do three shifts. Exams can be as long as 2 hours (English GCSE), so that's a total of 7 hours of kids having to be monitored constantly - during which time, in all likelihood, afternoon exams would be scheduled to start, that would have to be delayed, and could end up with invigilators pulling 12 hour+ shifts dealing with hordes of bored & frustrated teenagers.

    No-one's saying it can't be done. We've all done it - AS/A2 listening exams are done in computer rooms here so students can listen through headphones, for one example. But the original article was a head saying all exams would be done on computers, and some exams are for an enormous cohort, much bigger than the 20-25 we get in a French AS group. The scale makes it untenable.

    And regarding using a few rooms for current exams - no we're not. Written exams are all done in one room, the gym. Different exams going on alongside each other.

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    I won't lie - it'll be a challenge, more for some schools than others. For special testing events (twice a year type jobs) we've been known to come in at 7:30am and kick off the testing until 8:00pm. I'm not saying that's what's going/should happen with schools - it's just nor workable or fair on the students.

    One scenario would be to maybe go to a center setup just for this type of testing?
    Or a set of laptops are delivered to schools for testing - would be a case of just having a laptop on the desk instead of paper - and once done, secured away until the next testing day.
    Or (for a giggle) OFSTED have a team who will come into schools to setup testing equipment for the exams (Currently happens for RCP events across the UK)?

    It's definitely a challenge which would require schools to effectively have a desktop/laptop readied for each student in year 11 to take a test.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sonofsanta View Post
    So continuing my worst case example, 360 kids - we have 4 IT rooms of 30 computers, so we'd need to do three shifts. Exams can be as long as 2 hours (English GCSE), so that's a total of 7 hours of kids having to be monitored constantly - during which time, in all likelihood, afternoon exams would be scheduled to start, that would have to be delayed, and could end up with invigilators pulling 12 hour+ shifts dealing with hordes of bored & frustrated teenagers.

    No-one's saying it can't be done. We've all done it - AS/A2 listening exams are done in computer rooms here so students can listen through headphones, for one example. But the original article was a head saying all exams would be done on computers, and some exams are for an enormous cohort, much bigger than the 20-25 we get in a French AS group. The scale makes it untenable.
    Exactly, unless in the next decade all classrooms will be outfitted with PCs or Thin clients in which case you would have the whole cohort split into X number of classrooms. It is untenable given the current infrastructure but if you consider the 'School of the future' and imagine how things COULD change, it COULD become feasible. Although considering that many schools are still using Windows XP due to budget constraints I won't hold my breath that the money will be there for upgrades like this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk View Post
    They have to be the same questions too, else it isn't a fair test.
    Not necessarily. You can have e.g. A, B, C and D papers for the same exam, each balanced appropriately to equalise the difficulty and with separate marking/moderation teams for each (or they all "revise" the lot). After all, barring Government fiddling, the English GCSE from 2010 should be roughly the same in difficulty as the exam from 2011 because the level of qualification is the same, so surely it's perfectly possible to have different questions that each test a candidate's ability in the same way and to the same degree. They would just issue those four separate versions of the exam, turning a cohort of 200 into 50 per session, so that's only two labs' worth at a time, perfectly feasible (here at least) and it doesn't matter if they talk to each other in between because the questions are different.

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    But that means more work for the exam boards, who will pass that cost to the school, who are already down for thousands on a new IT infrastructure that they didn't have the budget for in the first place...

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    If you do it as above though, you don't need a massive new infrastructure as you can then fit it into your existing labs without too much disruption (and let's face it, there's always some disruption around exams time so that's nothing new). Also, I'm not sure just how much extra work there would be for the exam boards as essentially it's just an extension of existing practices. Add to that the exam boards' savings (both in money and effort) in printing and delivering all those papers - plus the schools' savings in buying and storing them - and I'd imagine it would at least balance out.
    Last edited by Ephelyon; 20th September 2013 at 05:32 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by happymeal View Post
    Look at the Driving Agency tests as an example. 45 mins per test - each session is staggered so that the candidates are seated within 5-10 mins, tests are started and then end, and 5 mins to clear them out. Next session can then begin.
    But that's a simple multi guess, presumably with each candidate getting a perm x from y set of questions. Nothing like 150 kids sitting down to write an essay on Macbeth.

    Oh wait, in another thread we are going to scrap that...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ephelyon View Post
    If you do it as above though, you don't need a massive new infrastructure as you can then fit it into your existing labs without too much disruption (and let's face it, there's always some disruption around exams time so that's nothing new). Also, I'm not sure just how much extra work there would be for the exam boards as essentially it's just an extension of existing practices. Add to that the exam boards' savings (both in money and effort) in printing and delivering all those papers - plus the schools' savings in buying and storing them - and I'd imagine it would at least balance out.
    Existing labs/suites couldn't be used though, as most schools don't have the rooms laid out in an exam layout. Not enough space between machines, able to see other screens etc...

    Best I've seen in similar situations is only half the machines used, so as to space people properly.

    Plus, that only works if schools still have enough suites. There are schools who have reduced the number of suites after introducing ipads for all pupils. The examination software I've seen all required Flash so you couldn't use the ipads either.

    The cost to schools if this sort of thing happens will be pretty high, and will require a rethink of how exams are taken on a more fundamental level than paper or computer.

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    I am currently doing our CATs test on the testingforschools website. One room, one class 3 periods of lessons. 6 days to do the entire year 7. It takes me 20 minutes logging them on and launching the website. If we had to do the setup for an exam, 12 classrooms for the non statemented students, another 3 rooms for the Statemented students, that's just for the 300 year 11 students.

    What about the scheduled lessons that take place....sorry ICT teachers, you can't teach your kids, we need your rooms for exams. Like that's going to go down well.

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    What happens when a machine crashes mid exam? What happens if there was a power cut? What happens if there's a bug in the software? The list goes on....

    Seems like a stupid idea and is best left to pen + paper. I hate the amount of paper schools use, and think a hell of a lot more could be done to reduce their paper consumption, but exams aren't one of them.

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    Technology - or at least exam setting - will move on too. We already have on-demand papers; there are also computer-controlled adaptive tests that sense how well a candidate is doing and then choose which question to give next, easier or harder to suit. These adaptive tests mean that candidates doing the same exam at the same time aren't doing the same questions, means cheating is harder. Also means that top candidates don't have to do loads of stupidly easy questions, and that weak candidates don't get given questions they haven't a hope of answering. I think that ISEB is on to this one?
    With typed answers, at least some marking could be automated - although human judgement will be essential for a long time to come.
    And as we increasingly move to a screen-based communication system, the business of a pile of ruled A4, a biro and just under a square metre of plywood will be totally inappropriate for examining. There are tech problems, true, but the exam boards seem to have sorted out their end of things pretty well with just about everything electronic. And Moore's Law will help - the price and power of devices will continue to change very rapidly.

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