What you need to get started with digital exams?
The first thing that needs to be ensured is access to some kind of computer device for reading and writing the exam. The number of devices you have access to will be the most crucial factor for your exam setup. Will you be able to have one computer per student or use a computer lab and split the students over a day or two?
Internet or wifi access
Make sure you have stable access to the wifi network and or Internet. One easy way to evaluate weaknesses in your network is to play a full high definition Youtube video with some kind of music and then walk around in the classroom or facility where you intend to do the exam. If the music breaks up or completely stops, you have issues that need to be solved. A full HD Youtube video requires roughly 4 to 5 Megabit per second.
Computer operating system
All computers and operating systems have different conditions and advantages when it comes to running exams. If you don’t already know, make an inventory of the percentages of device & operating systems in your organization.
- Mac OSX
- Windows 10
- Chrome OS (Chromebooks)
The purpose of computers and operating systems is to provide as many tools and features as possible to support the user. However, in an exam situation the opposite is true, the student is supposed to only get the tools they are allowed to use.
Some operating systems have limited built in functionality for lockdown while others don’t. If you use 3rd party software or mobile device management software to manage your device fleet, it may support lockdown. We suggest you investigate that.
One method to lockdown computers is “Safe exam browser”, a freeware software licensed under the Mozilla Public license. The software uses a configuration file to lockdown the computer and only provide access to the resources of your choice. “Safe exam browser” is not a complete exam solution, it’s just a lockdown security function.
Finally, let’s discuss Chrome OS, the operating system in Chromebooks. Chrome OS is the most optimal for the purpose of secure digital exams. Chrome OS was built with security in mind from day one. It’s so secure that Google has created a bug bounty program. There is a $ 150 000 reward for those who can hack the Chrome OS.
Control the exam environment #1
Now we have the foundation to run digital exams. The final piece is a software to run inside the locked down environment. Depending on your requirements, there are many solutions to choose from.
The first requirement to evaluate is: are you required by law or by a government organization to use a specific software?
In Sweden for example, the government will provide a mandatory exam software in 2023 for high stakes nation wide exams. Between 2018 and 2023 they require by law the schools to use digital exam software. The choice of software is open for the schools to choose, but they need to follow certain minimum requirements. For low stakes, daily exams, there are no requirements and they will not provide software.
The second requirement to evaluate is: has your organization already bought or chosen an exam software, or are you in any other way limited in your choice of software?
Control the exam environment #2
If you are free to choose any solution, these are examples of common questions to evaluate:
- Does the software support the operating system and hardware that I got in my organization?
- What kind of exams or question types do I need? Only essay or multiple choice or other more complex types?
- How will I distribute the questions; in the exam app or on paper?
- What languages do I need for teachers and students?
- What level of security is required?
- How can you limit or restrict cheating when students are un-attended?
- How can you see and support students during the exam?
- Are there any students that need accessibility assistance or functionality?
- Do we need the ability to run the exam offline?
- How will the students and teachers sign into the application; with user-name and password, with the Google account or a SSO solution?
- How much training is required and how long will it take for a teacher to get started with the first exam?
- Do we need any special agreements, for example Data Processing Agreement required like GDPR under the EU (European Union)law?
- What is the price for the complete exam solution including computers and licenses?
Our experience is that most of you are thinking; Can I get everything I need for free?
Probably not. How much functionality can you get for free?
Control the exam environment #3
We will use a Chromebook with Chrome Upgrade license as an example for look into cost and functionality.
The first category is called “hacks”. They can be found on blogs and forums where teachers discuss Chromebooks, for example the Google Educator Groups.
Hacks utilize the built-in kiosk functionality of Chrome OS and additional Chrome policies to limit the access to the Internet or more specifically only to access some online text editor.
This often solves the task for the one who created the hack, but his or her requirements are probably not the same as yours. When you need to scale the solution, new requirements from your colleagues or management makes the hack fall apart.
In 2019, Google released “Google Forms locked mode”, a new functionality in Google Forms, only available to managed Chromebooks. You use Google Forms and when the student starts the locked down quiz, all other browser tabs are closed during the quiz. This is a very secure solution and very easy to use and administrate.
We categorise the remainder of exam softwares as some sort of commercial application. Some are add-ons to LMS systems and some are stand alone applications. In general the LMS system software has great integrations but often lacks many other important features.
If you are evaluating stand alone commercial software, make sure you get an accurate idea of how much time each teacher needs to learn and spend on each exam – this is the single biggest cost of any solution. Everyone wants to avoid tedious tasks, so pay attention to how users are created and managed in the system. How does the user sign into the application? How is the post work handled? How much time in addition to regular working hours does the teachers have to spend for administration?
Adding more qualified information
On the topic of security, our opinion is: Nothing can by definition be 100% secure. Your task is to make it as hard as possible to cheat using as little human resources as possible.
Recent studies in Sweden showed an alarming increase of cheating. Plagiarism is the most common type of cheat. If you don’t already got an anti-plagiarism software, we suggest you evaluate Ouriginal – formerly known as urkund.com
To conclude this section. The best choice of exam solution is the one that best fits your specific needs and requirements!