The fairness of Computer Based Testing


As many of you have probably experienced, there is a push right now for computer based testing. Computer based tests are becoming the norm for taking standardized tests like the GRE and NYSTCE. As with many things there are pros and cons to these exams. But the question is do the pros outweigh the cons? Or do the cons make these tests unfair?

Some of the benefits of computer based testing include: timely feedback, more efficient monitoring and tracking of students’ results, a reduced number of resources (as they are replaced by computers), easier storing of results records, and electronic analyzing of data that can be used in spreadsheets and statistical packages. Some downfalls of computer based testing include: costly and time consuming implementation of the exams, assessors and staff implementing must have IT skills, close monitoring of the software as there are chances it could fail or malfunction during an exam, the absence of an instructor, issues to prevent cheating, and computer anxiety.

This last disadvantage is a big one for students taking the exams, and it brings up the question of fairness. I am not saying that paper exams are entirely fair, as some people are better test takers than others to begin with. However, the computer based tests may give an advantage to students who are used to using a computer and have better skills using a computer. For example, a student who has not had a lot of experience typing on a keyboard may be at a disadvantage when taking a computer based test. Or a student who struggles when looking at a computer for too long may not be able to complete a long computer based examination.

I am interested to see how far computer based testing will go. Will students soon be taking SAT exams as computer based tests? And will it go so far that using paper and pencils on exams becomes a thing of the past and all tests taken in college and high school are taken through computer software? I do see the advantage of computer based testing, but I think it would be beneficial if students had a choice, especially right now for students who have not necessarily grown up taking all exams and assessments with a keyboard and a computer screen in front of them.




One Reply to “The fairness of Computer Based Testing”

  1. I’m glad someone posted about this because I was just discussing this with a friend yesterday and was thinking what a good blog post it would make!

    The friend with whom I was discussing this is in her third year of pharmacy school on a “paperless campus.” She takes all of her exams on her computer and gets her grades back almost immediately. I’m sure we can all say we’re a little jealous of this, particularly as English majors who often consider ourselves lucky if we get an essay back by the end of the semester! I think that the benefits you mention, particularly data organization and the environmental advantages, are definitely a big point of consideration. Clearly computerized testing is where we’re headed.

    You bring up a good point, that computerized testing disadvantages those students who are not exposed to this technology often. I would guess that as computers are integrated in earlier classrooms more and more, students will become more proficient and we won’t see this problem as much. I agree that until then students should be given the choice of which format to use.

    My only question is that if younger students are given a choice, will they all go for the computers, seeing that as the “cooler” option, rather than going with the accommodation that gives them the most success? Students who do not have the financial means to have a computer at home may try to cover this up and fit in by picking the computer. On the other hand, if we separate them based on who performs better in each environment, there’s a stigma that comes with being in each of the groups. I do believe that ultimately computer testing will become the norm (and that for many it will be advantageous), but until then it is a difficult situation for educators to navigate.

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