How to Get Students On Board with Computer-Based Testing

June 23, 2015 Kristen Hicks

For an administrator in higher education, the success of every decision is dependent on the response and participation of two groups: faculty and students. We’ve discussed previously how crucial faculty acceptance is for a culture of assessment to pay off, but the cooperation of that second group is just as important.

It’s easy for us to assume—as comfortable as they tend to be with their smartphones, iPads, and laptops—that students prefer to do their work on the devices they’re so familiar with. In fact, a recent study found that 63% of students opt for paper-based exams when given a choice. Computer-based testing seems like an obvious progression in our tech-heavy society, yet many students still appreciate the opportunity to make notes on their tests as they go, such as by marking out answers, highlighting relevant information, and recording their thoughts in writing.

Why Student Acceptance Is Important

The benefits of computer-based testing are evident at all levels. Students get better feedback, teachers get clearer insights into what students need, and the administration gets clear data on how to make programs better. All of those benefits make pushing for widespread adoption of computer-based exams worthwhile at your institution, but you don’t want students to feel forced into something they don’t want.

If students feel like you’re limiting their options in a way that could hurt their performance, you’ll hear about it. You’ll not only have to deal with pushback from them, you’ll risk putting them in an uncomfortable position where their performance really will suffer. Nobody wants that.

How to Win Students Over

When the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences decided to implement computer-based testing for all their students, they made the strategic decision to ease students into the process. Before students were given any tests with the new testing software, they were asked to participate in a series of mock tests.

The mock tests accomplished two important goals at once:
1. They gave students the chance to get used to the testing software they’d be using for exams throughout the semester, before there were any real stakes involved.
2. They gave administrators the chance to collect some data on how students felt about computer-based exams.

The mock tests gave students an opportunity to weigh in about the switch to computer-based testing and let faculty see how student views changed once they gained more experience with the technology.

Faculty asked students questions like:
• What OS do you use on your primary device?
• Do you prefer to use your personal laptop or iPad when taking a computer-based exam?
• What are your concerns about computer-based testing?
• How fast do you think computer-based testing will be in comparison to written tests?
• Do you like taking your test on a computer?

Since they gave a few mock tests, faculty were able to see students quickly come around to the idea of computer-based testing. While some student concerns remained after taking the mock tests, gaining a little bit of experience helped ease others.

Many of the student concerns after experiencing computer-based testing were more specific, and thus easier for the school to respond to.

A general concern about the possibility of technology glitches is much harder to address than the specific issue of students not knowing which questions they’re expected to scroll down on. Tests can be written to address the specific issue directly and alleviate any confusion.

George Washington University found that taking time to introduce the software and process to students before they took a test with real stakes made a big difference in addressing their concerns and encouraging their acceptance of computer-based testing. This webinar from Dr. Veronica Michaelsen covers their experience and results in more detail.

When it comes to exam administration, you have to make the best decision for your school, but you don’t want to alienate students in the process. If you choose student-friendly exam software and introduce it to your students in a way that wins them over, you can enjoy all the benefits of computer-based testing without all the pushback.


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