Assessment is an integral albeit sometimes not very popular and very conservative part of language education. Until last year, some progressive teachers experimented with online quizzes but most organisations still worked with the pen & paper tests taken in the classroom or assessment labs and then manually marked by teachers. Pandemic situation changed that completely and accelerated the transition to the assessment solutions which can be delivered online.
In the search for the right online assessment solution, there are some decision factors teachers and school administrators should consider.
A. Test purpose
Firstly, you need to decide what you want to achieve with your test and choose the type of the test accordingly.
- Achievement tests, sometimes called progress tests measure what students have learned.
The content is generally based on the course syllabus or the course textbook. These are typically provided by the textbook publisher with the course textbook, sometimes already in the online form. Alternatively, teachers create their own tasks based on their syllabus and upload them to the quizzes module in the learning management system (LMS, e.g. Moodle or Google Classroom) or in simple online applications.
- Diagnostic tests, which seek to identify those areas in which a student needs further help.
- Placement tests, which are designed to assess students’ levels of language ability so that they can be placed in an appropriate group or class.
- Proficiency tests which are not based on a particular language programme. They are designed to test the ability of students with different language training backgrounds. It can be used for the admission and final exam.
The good test could serve more than one of the above purposes. For example, the key purpose of the independent assessment platform is usually the placement and proficiency assessment but the system can also provide feedback about the grammar weaknesses of a student, a class or school.
With multiple testing during the course (or at least at the beginning and the end of the course), the tests results can be used also for the monitoring of students’ progress. Schools can demonstrate to their clients (students, parents or HR department) the added value of provided education via the progress reports.
B. Use of test results
Regardless of the test purpose, it is also important to consider how the results will be used and what are the consequences to the test-takers. Let’s use the admission tests as an example. Some institutions use the admission English test for the placement so they can recommend the preparatory language course to the candidates with some deficiencies.
Other institutions might use results from the same admission test as the requirement for being accepted. Naturally, the propensity to cheat in the second case is much higher so the test administrators need to apply the adequate measures.
How to prevent cheating in online tests
A primary motivation for taking any test or exam should be to identify a proficiency of students or employees, not for getting the mark or certificate. However, in the high-stake exams, administrators need to ensure the students use only allowed resources during the exam.
In the past, exam proctors supervised the tests in the classroom or computer lab. Tests were taken only on paper or on the authorised devices running in the kiosk mode and sometimes even under the surveillance camera.
The pandemic situation changed that abruptly. Students need to access the test remotely from home, using their own devices. Some students use computers, others have only mobile phones or tablets. Installation of the special monitoring software on home devices and by user is always a nightmare and sometimes even not possible. In each online proctoring solution, there is a trade-off between rigidness and practicality. Here are some factors we considered during the design of the TrackTest Verified exam, the online English test with the identity verification and online invigilation.
Proctoring in synchronous VS asynchronous online tests
Synchronous online tests are very similar to the in-class assessment, just transferred to the online environment. Test administrators need to gather a group of students for the set date and time to the online platform where one proctor monitors the behaviour of multiple test-takers in real-time. The benefit is that the proctor can immediately address the potential issues during the test. On the other hand, it is more difficult to manage the assessment dates, especially with users in different time zones or in the corporate environment.
At TrackTest, we decided to use asynchronous testing as a more flexible and cost-effective option. The test-takers may take the test anytime until the deadline set by the organizer. Shots from the front-facing camera and screen recording are checked by the human proctor after the test completion. The potential issues with the initial set-up is addressed by the simple online on-boarding before the start of the test where candidates check their technical resources.
Special software VS Browser only
Some assessment solutions might require an installation of their own proprietary software. Based on our experience, this is usually very cumbersome, especially when the installation is required on computers. Using the standard web technologies already present in all modern web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge) is less rigid but a much easier method. In this case, test takers do not need to install anything, they just allow access to their webcam and microphone.
Typical cheating attempts
Some cheating-prevention features can be already included in the test construct. For example, in TrackTest, tests are generated from the pool of tasks/questions so students get different questions every time. The assessment system provides the general feedback about the grammar topics with the most mistakes after the test but does not provide the correct answers. So it is less probable that they could be found on the illegal download sites. Moreover, the time limit reduces the room for speculative activities.
Other cheating attempts have been identified through our Verified exam solution. Among them, the assistance of another person is the most frequent, followed by the non-allowed use of external resources, typically a mobile phone. Less often, we also catch the attempt for identity fraud when the people identify themselves with the photo ID and then another person takes the test.
But these are the exceptions, tests with rejected verification make in average only 3-4% of all verified exams taken through our platform.
There is not one universal answer to all assessment needs of schools and organisations. Choosing the right platform and the right type of the test depends on the purpose of the assessment and how the total results will be used.