Article: Educational Assessment in India in the 21st Century

By- Belinda Brunner, Test Development Strategist at Pearson VUE

As Dr. Hariharan Swaminathan pointed out at a recent conference in New Delhi hosted by the Association of Test Publishers in collaboration with the Association of Indian Universities, educational assessment has a long history in India. The story of Yaksha Prashna from the epic Mahabharata is after all a story of assessment.

Belinda Brunner, Test Development Strategist at Pearson VUE

Throughout most of its long history, educational assessment was conducted through three methods: oral, where questions are asked aloud and the test taker responds verbally; performance, where the test taker is asked to do or demonstrate something; and pencil-and-paper, where the assessment is given in a written format.

Modern-day testing provides additional options through the use of technology. Computer-based testing (CBT) is becoming increasingly common across the globe. Indeed, CBT has changed the educational assessment landscape.

Large lecture halls with many rows of test takers with their heads down working their way through their examination papers – this is the mental picture we get when we think of large-scale educational assessments, such as the Board exams. These large-scale examinations present significant logistical challenges for the test sponsors – finding facilities large enough to host the exams, shipping the papers and making sure that the papers and answer sheets are all returned. They can also be problematic for test takers.  What happens if the test taker is ill or has an emergency on the day of the exam?

One of the biggest advantages of CBT is that test takers don’t all have to be assessed at the same time. Examinations can be offered in testing windows, a fixed period of time, such as a week or a month, when the exam is available. Or they can even be offered through continuous on-demand testing so test takers can take the examinations at their convenience.

Assessments like the Board exams are high-stakes assessments, those that have significant consequences for the test takers as well as for the test sponsors. With high-stakes assessments, test security is a primary concern.

Computer-based testing available through specialised testing centres offers security features beginning with strict test taker identification and invigilation procedures. Technology enhances test security through the encryption of content and the automatic capture of test taker data, such as the time it takes to respond to each and every test item. All this can be analysed through the use of data forensics to identify and investigate potential test taker cheating and fraud.

One concern is how the risk of test content being leaked can be alleviated when all test takers are not sitting the assessment at the same time. But there is a variety of test administration models available through CBT to protect test content, one such method is to create equivalent and comparable examinations to make sure that all test takers do not see the same test questions but receive equivalent and comparable examinations.

This is important in terms of fairness because test takers should be neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by the version of the exam they sit. It is also essential for test sponsors to be able to defend the credibility of their exams. To develop CBT-administered exams which are fair and credible requires guidance from measurement scientists known as psychometricians. They have advanced degrees in fields such educational measurement or quantitative psychology and are experts in test design and statistical analysis.

CBT offers a variety of question types that are available through the use of technology. While multiple choice and essay questions can be administered in either pencil-and-paper or CBT environments, CBT facilitates the use of other question formats that are not available in pencil-and-paper testing.  For example, media including audio and video files can be easily added to CBT exams. This means that test sponsors have more options available to them when deciding the best means to assess the desired test taker knowledge, skills and abilities. Video images can provide better assessment opportunities for assessments. For example, in the medical field, test takers could be able to view electrocardiogram (ECG) images and then respond to questions about the patient’s diagnosis or treatment.

More sophisticated computer simulations are also being used for performance testing, in which test takers have to demonstrate specific skills rather than being assessed on their knowledge. Just as CBT can lessen the logistical burden of administering written examinations, computer-based performance testing can make it administratively easier to conduct these types of tests. However, fit-for-purpose assessment conducted through computer simulations requires great care and diligence in its development involving both measurement and technology expertise.


With its significant population, its devotion to education, and its emerging influence on the global stage, perhaps the time has come for India to more fully embrace computer-based testing as a means of conducting high-quality large-scale assessments.

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