Article: How computer-based testing can help meet India’s professional assessment needs - WorldHRDiary

October 31, 2016

Article: How computer-based testing can help meet India’s professional assessment needs

By Belinda Brunner, Director of Testing Services Strategy at Pearson VUE

Human capital is one of India's greatest economic strengths, and the country increasingly competes in an economic world where the workplace is effectively borderless due to the pervasive use of technology.

Knowledge and information have an important influence on business success, but thanks to constant advances in technology workers' knowledge and skills become out of date quicker than normal, requiring more frequent re-tooling of skills.

Measuring skills through educational assessment has a long history in India and will continue to play a significant role in the workplace as it adapts to the challenges and opportunities that a high-tech environment provides. Its role is perhaps even more vital.

Belinda Brunner, Director of Testing Services Strategy at Pearson VUE

Historically, pencil-and-paper exams were the only option for written examinations. Individuals were required to attend on a specific day to take their examinations and exams were sat by everyone at the same time in large lecture halls. While that process may still be appropriate for certain types of examinations, greater access and flexibility is required to meet the assessment demands required in a lifelong learning environment.

Computer-based testing (CBT) provides the access and flexibility required in today’s fast-paced environment.  Exams can be offered either continuously throughout the year or in longer testing windows lasting weeks or perhaps even months, instead of just on one single day. This means that candidates can take a CBT assessment when they are exam-ready and that they can fit it into their busy schedules more easily. Furthermore, CBT examinations can be offered in a greater number of locations as they do not require locating and making arrangements for lecture halls to accommodate a large number of test takers on a single day.

Above and beyond the greater access and flexibility provided, CBT offers individuals the opportunity to take examinations in the same way they function in both their private and professional lives – using technology. Smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs are commonplace now, and India has more than 462 million internet users, according to So it is natural for the current tech-savvy generation of examination candidates to use a computer when being assessed.

Taking full advantage of the benefits offered by CBT involves multi-disciplinary expertise – not only in terms of technological expertise but also highly skilled and specific knowledge of psychometrics, the science of educational and psychological measurement, and a proven track record of transitioning exams from pencil-and-paper to CBT.

CBT examinations allow technology-enhanced questions so that test takers can demonstrate their knowledge, skills and abilities in a way that has greater fidelity with how they would work in the real-world. For instance, an accounting exam can include a spreadsheet embedded with the test question so that test takers use the spreadsheet to calculate and record answers just as they would use spreadsheets on the job. Questions which have objective responses can then be marked automatically using the testing technology and results can be released immediately, creating even greater efficiency in the assessment process.

One of the reasons pencil-and-paper testing occurs in large single-day events is to prevent exam takers from leaking questions to others who may be taking the examination at a later time. Question leakage and exposure is a significant threat to assessing peoples’ knowledge fairly. One concern that may arise with a move to computer-based testing relates to preventing questions being leaked when everyone is not taking the exam at the same time. But there are a number of measures that can be taken with CBT to address test security concerns. 

CBT assessments can be designed and administered in a way so that questions are delivered in a randomised order, and each test taker does not have to get exactly the same set of test questions. There are various exam administration models that can be employed in CBT so that different sets of questions are selected for different test takers, limiting the advantage test takers may have if they have prior access to test questions.

Of course, if someone passes a particular exam but receives easier test questions than another candidate who fails, assessment is not operating as a meritocracy. Results should not be affected by the version of the exam each test taker receives. That is why CBT test development strategies are employed to create different versions of the same exam so that we can check and compare how hard the questions are. These versions are then equated, allowing a fair comparison of results across the versions.

Delivering tests via computer also allows for data-rich results which can be used to assess the performance of test takers, the exam questions and exam in its entirety. Data such as these can be helpful in determining the right quantity and types of test questions as well as in performing data forensics to aid in fraud and cheating detection.

For these reasons, CBT has become the preferred delivery method for many professional assessments worldwide across a broad spectrum of industry sectors including IT, financial, and healthcare. Not only do the exams administered by these organisations improve employment opportunities for the test takers, they can also have important consequences for public protection and safety.

Organisations need modern assessment tools without sacrificing the meritocracy and fairness required of high-stakes assessments.  Applying these CBT techniques can result in higher standards of assessment to meet India’s growing professional assessment needs across all sectors.

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