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Decoding computer-based tests: A comprehensive guide


From primary, secondary, and tertiary education to vocational certification, all forms of education and training require optimized and measurable assessments to measure the outcomes of knowledge imparted to learners. Well-designed assessments focus on targeted areas with utmost accuracy and encourage learners to perform better. Before the digital era, evaluators used traditional approach-based tests. However, with the internet and technology seeping into different aspects of life and computing gadgets becoming necessary, assessments have become increasingly crucial.

The age of new, innovative computer-assisted assessments has dawned. Unlike its predecessor (pen-and-paper testing), a computer-based test is not a resource-intensive evaluation. On the contrary, it is technologically advanced and has eliminated the inconvenience incurred due to rudimentary testing approaches. For example, the requirement for examination halls, seating configurations, printed papers, travel and other logistical hassles were evident. Conducting assessments online via digital tools benefits invigilators and students, who are now highly receptive to digital technologies.

This blog will detail the intricacies of computer-based assessments and how they support educational institutions that are contemplating shifting to computer-based testing.


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What is a computer-based test (CBT)?

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The need for computer-based examinations has increased, given the post-pandemic challenges. The global pandemic has underlined the challenges and vulnerabilities the education sector faces. There are serious concerns about building a committed framework to keep academia immune to such disruptions. CBT provides a scaffold by minimizing the administrative burden of conducting examinations in academia, reducing the time and effort that would otherwise be consumed on the laborious process of setting up examination centers, printing and distributing exam papers, and other overheads.

Computer technology is employed in computer-based testing (CBT), which means the candidates use computers to answer questions presented on the monitor. The computer the test taker uses is called a client computer. In contrast, the computer used for delivering the exam while connected to an intranet/internet is called a server computer. Therefore, computer-based exams take place in a client-server environment.

The appeal of online CBT lies in its functionality to streamline how educational assessments, certifications, or pre-employment tests are conducted in multiple ways. From its inception in the 1970s to now, when computers have assumed a ubiquitous status, it has become the ideal successor to paper-and-pencil tests. Interestingly, the terms ‘online exam’ and ‘computer-based exam’ are often used interchangeably; however, there is a subtle difference between these two.

An online exam may be perceived as a subsection of the CBT because, as the name suggests, the computer-based test is too comprehensive not to include online exams in its ambit. While the term online exam can be used for any examination conducted over the internet, the computer-based test is generically used for any test given and taken using computers, without depending on the internet.

To put it into perspective, a CBT may or may not be connected to a server on the intranet/internet and may act as standalone testing. Once the exam is over, the result can be transferred online to a web server or locally stored on the computer’s hard disk.


History of computer-based assessments

The history of computer-based assessments (CBAs) can be traced back to the mid-20th century when the first computers emerged. Early attempts at computerized testing were limited by the technological constraints of the time. However, with the rapid advancements in computing power and technology during the latter half of the 20th century, the potential for using computers in assessments became increasingly apparent. In the 1960s and 1970s, the advent of mainframe computers allowed for the development of simple computerized tests. The 1980s saw the rise of personal computers, further expanding the possibilities for computer-based assessments. The 1990s marked a turning point with the widespread adoption of the Internet, enabling the development of online assessments. As the 21st century unfolded, the sophistication of CBAs increased, incorporating multimedia elements, adaptive testing, and artificial intelligence. Today, computer-based assessments play a crucial role in education, employment, and various professional certifications, providing efficient and reliable means of evaluating knowledge and skills.


Types of online computer-based assessments

Some common types of CBTs are:

  • Multiple-choice tests: These tests present a question or statement with multiple answer options, and the test taker selects the correct answer(s) from the given choices.
  • Fill-in-the-blank tests: The test taker must provide the missing word or phrase to complete a sentence or statement in these tests.
  • True or false tests: Test takers are presented with statements and must determine whether each piece of information is true or false.
  • Simulations: Simulations are interactive computer-based tests that mimic real-life scenarios. They assess practical skills and decision-making abilities in various fields, such as healthcare, aviation, and engineering.
  • Online assessments: Online assessments encompass various CBTs delivered through internet-based platforms. They can include multiple-choice tests, simulations etc., providing flexibility and convenience for test takers.
  • Programming or coding tests: These tests assess a test taker’s programming knowledge and coding skills. They typically involve solving coding problems or writing code to achieve a specific outcome.
  • Adaptive tests: Adaptive tests dynamically adjust the difficulty of questions based on a test taker’s responses. Depending on the test taker’s performance, the questions become more challenging or accessible, aiming to provide a more precise evaluation.
  • Matching tests: These tests match items in one column with corresponding objects in another. The test taker connects related terms or concepts by drawing lines or selecting options.
  • Essay tests: Essay tests require test takers to write detailed responses to questions or prompts. They are often used to evaluate writing skills, critical thinking, and subject knowledge.
  • Certification exams: Many professional certifications, such as IT certifications or language proficiency exams, are conducted using computer-based tests. These exams assess knowledge, skills, and competencies required for specific professions or industries.


Benefits of using computer-based tests

Computer-based testing can be used most effectively for several academic purposes, certification tests, or pre-employment screening processes, with examinations (assessments) as one of the decisive rounds to screen out applicants. Moreover, for corporates, such tests can enable management to develop pathways for employees’ career progressions. Learning and development departments can also leverage online CBTs to identify employees’ strengths and weaknesses and design appropriate training programs for holistic workforce development.

Computer-based tests have various advantages over traditional examination methods. From conducting exams to delivering reports, computer-based exams have made the examination process smoother. Besides, computer-based tests offer multiple benefits to candidates and administrators in administering, grading and scaling up the process.

The advantages of computer-based tests are:


Computer-based tests can be conducted all year round. Students can take tests at a time and place of their choosing. They do not need to travel to a particular physical location to write an exam, enabling candidates from far-off areas to take their test. The test window usually extends between one to three weeks, allowing aspirants to choose a convenient slot.

Computer adaptive testing

Computer adaptive tests are a form of CBT whose difficulty level adjusts based on the respondents' answers, depending on the examinees' ability and knowledge. For example, if the test-taker answers a question correctly, the next problem will be complex. Computer adaptive testing is yet another milestone of assessment technology, providing an effective means to assess students' abilities more precisely.


Various security features are inherent in computer-based testing to maintain test integrity. In addition, online proctoring and different security features make CBT a highly secure mode of assessment.

Wide reach

Conducting online exams from any corner of the world is essential to universities. Unlike the traditional examination approach, students can appear for an online computer-based exam from their chosen place and select an exam slot at their convenience.


Since the computer-based examination can be conveniently hosted on a robust CBT exam platform, it can be conducted simultaneously for multiple candidates, irrespective of location. Stellar computer-based exam software can also support over one lakh proctored tests and can be scaled further without significant investments.

Auto grading

This feature of computer-based tests eliminates the scope of human error and the hassle of allotting evaluation duties to teachers. In addition, multiple-choice questions can be auto-graded easily, helping institutions to churn out real-time reports. It also saves considerable time in evaluating a large number of answer sheets.

Uncovers new aspects of thinking 

Gamification can reveal underlying aspects of students’ problem-solving skills and help instructors measure their higher-order thinking skills. By having students undertake computer-based tests focusing on digital learning games and evaluating their rationale behind making specific decisions, online program instructors can personalize and tailor-make future learning experiences for each student.


A computer-based test accommodates the needs of differently-abled people by enabling them to take up assessments more conveniently instead of a pen-and-paper test. Moreover, integrating features such as braille keyboards, magnification tools, screen readers, voice-to-text, and text-to-voice applications has lent significant convenience to designing and deploying exams for differently-abled candidates.

Saves time and energy 

The time consumed in creating question papers, driving registration, arranging supplies, and evaluating can be avoided with online CBTs as they automate the entire process. Additionally, resource consumption is significantly lower, like stationery, invigilators, or transport facilities.


Applications of computer-based tests

While computer-based tests have multiple applications, these tests are becoming increasingly popular in the following areas:


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Leveraging CBTs for academic assessments


Computer-based exams have gained steady ground in the education sector, with the last two decades witnessing the most profound shift in how assessments are given and taken. Computer testing offers numerous benefits compared to pen-and-paper tests. Some of its advantages are:


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Computer-based assessments are becoming a crucial part of the education system. Earlier, the arduous and time-consuming process of preparing tests was overwhelming for teachers because they needed to ensure fairness and consistency in every exam for each class. Besides, even if the teacher did a reasonable job of preparing a satisfactory exam, keeping students from indulging in cheating practices was challenging, which was detrimental to the integrity of exams. However, computer-based exams have weeded out all these hassles associated with the traditional processes, streamlining examination processes.

The computer-based testing methodology catalyzes the exam processes and tackle the challenges concerning the facilitation of examination, result report generation, and end-to-end process management. In administering tests, CBT negates the possibility of human errors evident during conducting, marking, and scoring an exam. Furthermore, the integration of remote proctoring technologies curbs cheating instances.

Two significant ways in which computer-based tests can be used as a learning assessment tool are:

Integration within the e-learning modules: Computer-based assessments can be embedded within the e-learning modules to consolidate all the components of learning activities in one place. For example, a MOOC (Massive open online course) student might watch a video that includes comprehension questions embedded within it. Or, a learner may complete the e-learning module that ends with a final exam.

Standalone CBTs: This type of test is commonly used in all kinds of learning environments, including in-person courses. An administrator can easily create tests and quizzes using a web-based platform to measure student learning outcomes. Computer-based exams have various applications, from online quizzes to final exams. They help instructors assess the effectiveness of their teaching and also boost student engagement in the classroom.


Leveraging CBTs for conducting certification programs


Computer-based tests also double up as credentialing tests to assess whether candidates are knowledgeable enough in a specific occupational area to be deemed ‘competent to practice’ in that domain. So, these tests are indispensable tools for conducting online certification for professionals.

While many computer-based examinations exist for today’s most demanded skills, test-takers can only earn certification in their respective domains if they meet the minimum score requirement.

A certificate is a credential awarded to an individual after completing an educational or training course, implying that the learner has acquired new skills, competencies and proficiency. The attainment of the learning outcomes is measured using computer-based tests with predetermined standards for certification success.


What is certification?


Certification is an assessment, audit, or review of a person, organization, or object under consideration. There are myriad certifications in the world today. They can be broadly classified into three categories:


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  • A first-party certification is when a person or business offering products/services assures their offerings meet specific standards. For example, CE marking is widely prevalent in the European market, stating that the product marked under CE has been tested to meet specific health, environmental, and safety criteria.
  • Second-party certification means an individual or organization must rely on other associations to provide the assurance. In this regard, an association provides an approval mark for a particular market segment. Individuals or organizations must meet specific criteria to obtain this quality mark.
  • Third-party certification is when an independent organization conducts a comprehensive assessment of practices and processes that an individual or an organization follows and determines whether the final product complies with predefined standards for quality, safety or performance.


Types of certifications


Various types of certifications include:


Types of certifications


Internal certifications

Organizations use internal certifications to impart hands-on knowledge to employees in technologies, software, or the latest methodologies. These certifications are also used for upskilling employees. Usually, these certifications are intended for the workforce within the company and are not applicable outside the organization. Such certification programs are crucial for an organization’s learning and development strategy.

External certifications

External certification agencies provide external certificates. Such bodies provide accreditations in a specific industry for a particular domain.

Skills certifications

Professionals must consistently upgrade their skill sets while considering future uncertainties to stay up-to-date. They need a common language of skills that stay unchanged across industries. Skills certification is the language that can provide an expression to validate those skills. It delivers a level playing field where everyone can communicate their skills to the world, regardless of age, race, or gender.

Skills certifications can be categorized into various segments, as listed below:

IT certifications:

Software certifications, or IT certifications, are the standard for ascertaining the credibility of information technology professionals worldwide. Such certifications formally recognize an individual's proficiency level in the programming domain. The recipient is certified as having skills and knowledge for a particular software discipline. Such certificate holders are expected to understand their specific software discipline strongly. The IT certification, often followed by a computer-based test, is awarded after an individual has demonstrated the requisite skills, knowledge, and abilities in their respective domain—e.g., Oracle certification, Certified data professional (CDP), Microsoft certification, etc.

Financial certifications:

Professional finance certifications are indispensable if someone is considering a career in this domain or is already working there. These certifications boost an individual's skills, knowledge, professional outlook, earning power, reputation, and much more. There are several available certifications for individuals to choose from, depending on the unique requirements of professionals. These certifications are available across various domains, such as investments, financial planning, technical analysis, corporate finance, risk management, quantitative finance, etc.

Healthcare certifications:

Healthcare requires an individual to fulfill all educational requirements before considering professional certifications. Once they satisfy all eligibility and essential needs, they can select a healthcare certification program that aligns with their desired career goals. However, one should plan and research the career path of their interest before pursuing the certification journey. Healthcare certifications validate that a certified person is qualified to perform the specified duties required for a specific position. Such certificates enable aspirants to enter the healthcare industry or transition from a different sector.

Language certifications

Multilingualism is an essential skill, considering today's interconnected world. Workplaces have become more diverse, with employees from diverse cultural/ethnic backgrounds working together to attain organizational objectives. Effective communication skills are crucial for students to reach their true north in this globally connected world. Language certification certifies that an individual is well-equipped to meet the demanding standards of a career in linguistics. The certification exam provides a means to understand their knowledge, abilities, and preparedness in a particular language.

Workplace safety certifications

Managing health and safety in the workplace is a legal necessity and a moral obligation. Safety certifications are well-established standards that organizations can use to structure their health and safety management framework. In addition, such certifications enable organizations to convey to their regulators, employees, and clients/customers that health and safety are at the forefront of their business operations.

Government certifications

Government certifications are accredited by the government body hosting a certification program for the targeted audience. Such programs enable candidates to enroll in special training courses and receive certificates after completing the course. These programs aim to upskill people, imparting knowledge and skills to them. Following such training, candidates will take the test to obtain a certificate in their respective domains. To ensure that the certification programs maintain the highest degree of integrity and quality, certification providers must move from pen-and-paper-based testing to computer-based testing (CBT). The move to CBT will also make the test-taking experience better for candidates.


How is a computer-based test done?


All the methods involved in a paper-based test are initialized digitally via computer-based examination systems, whether for student learning evaluation or candidate assessment during exams. The online CBT exam system can register and organize a vast candidate pool through its scalable platform. Through remote proctoring solutions, the system enables the live monitoring of examinees’ screens from the farthest locations. Furthermore, the system allows quick access to test results in real time with data analytics.


How does computer-based assessment software work?

Conducting online examinations is a simple process; running a web-based computerized exam on an online computer-based examination platform is easy. The user-friendliness of an online CBT platform makes it a holistic online exam solution provider. The computer-based evaluation process consists of the following steps:


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Step 1: Setting up the exam

The first step is to upload the questions. A robust online examination software allows uploading multiple types of problems. It also allows for integration with a learning management system (LMS).

Step 2: Inviting test-takers

Exam authorities then upload bulk student data, saving significant time gathering and updating candidates’ details. Invitation emails are sent to students, after which they can select a suitable exam slot.

Step 3: Authorizing and proctoring tests

ID-based authentication, AI-based live proctoring, screen recording, and browsing tolerance are some features that eliminate impersonation and malpractices, thus making the results as credible as traditional pen-and-paper tests.

Step 4: Real-time results

A computer-based assessment software provides real-time results that can be customized and shared in PDF or HTML format.

Step 5: Group-level analytics

In addition to individual reports, thorough data analysis provides valuable group-level insights that can be used in the future.



Computer-based assessments vs. paper-based assessments

There are some stark differences between online CBT exams and traditional exams:

  • While the paper-based test involves a long, tedious process of conducting exams and evaluating results, the computer-based test delivers fast, reliable, and error-free assessment solutions.
  • Limited resources are needed in web-based exams compared to traditional tests. Participants can quickly appear for the test online, and it can be held without dedicated faculty and staff. A dedicated exam center, adequate faculty, stationery, seating arrangements, etc., are prerequisites for conducting a pen-paper test.
  • Computer testing enables educators to conduct grading for online tests in a much easier way. In contrast, the evaluation process in a traditional exam system is time-consuming and prone to error.
  • In computer-based tests, the recruiter can instantly send emails regarding the assessment to millions of registered candidates. In addition, the web-based exam is a flexible and secure medium, for it can provide each student with a set of random questions on the same exam pattern to prevent cheating in the exams.
  • Computer-based tests are easily accessible to students with disabilities, whereas differently-abled students have limited access to conventional education and assessments.
  • Computer-based exams allow test creators to enrich the content by adding videos, images, audio clips, PDFs, etc. In addition, using visual elements adds interactivity to the learning experience of visual learners.
  • Online CBT exams come integrated with built-in functions to curb cheating, such as browser lockdown, key disabling features, and proctoring plug-ins, etc. However, in the pen-and-paper test, the chances are high that students can cheat easily.


How Mercer | Mettl empowered IIM Bangalore to conduct secure online proctored exams

Founded in 1973, the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) is an acclaimed public business school (B-school). The institute offers a comprehensive range of post-graduate, doctoral, and executive programs. Besides notable academic courses, the institute facilitates research, provides consulting services, conducts seminars and educational conferences, and publishes insightful journals. Their requirements included the need for:

Robust platform

IIMB needed a dynamic end-to-end examination platform that was easily accessible and location-agnostic for learners and examiners. In addition, the B-school wanted a platform that would support multiple question types and exam formats without any operational hassles.

Preserving academic integrity:

Since the exams were online and attempted remotely by candidates, the B-school’s requirement was a robust anti-cheating mechanism, with an online invigilation mechanism to ensure candidates attempting the test could not resort to any illicit means.

Mercer | Mettl’s recommended a suite of online technologies to tackle these challenges, the solutions were:

These value propositions aligned with IIMB’s existing requirements and future needs to enable blended learning. The institute witnessed a drastic reduction in cheating cases after shifting to Mercer | Mettl’s examination tools. Mercer | Mettl’s automated result feature generated the results instantaneously. The institute was able to offer credible certificates to deserving students after evaluating their actual performance.


How Mercer | Mettl can help academia conduct computer-based exams seamlessly

Physical examinations pose significant difficulties for academic institutions, administrators, and students. Mercer | Mettl’s web-based examination platform is an all-in-one, integrated system to digitize academic tests. The leading SaaS-based CBT software conducts online exams quickly and efficiently. As educational institutions gear up after bearing the brunt of the pandemic disruption, and e-learning takes precedence over offline learning, even in far-off locations, the need for a robust, scalable way to conduct tests online is evident. Mercer l Mettl’s online examination platform, with its most advanced features, addresses this absolute necessity.

Mercer | Mettl’s holistic solutions cater to the examination cycle, empowering faculty and administrators to design, schedule, and deliver exams, invigilate using a sophisticated suite of proctoring tools, evaluate answer scripts onscreen, and finally submit the results. The digital platform does all this without hampering a candidate’s exam-taking experience. With these solutions, the Mercer | Mettl platform weeds out all the hassles inherent in center-based physical examinations, such as monetary overheads, logistical challenges, manual evaluation of answer sheets, and real-time monitoring of the examination process. With stringent anti-cheating protocols, the state-of-the-art platform can simplify the demanding task of conducting computer-based exams and certifications at scale. Numerous prestigious universities and institutes worldwide, including IIMB, IIMC, IIML, The Washington Center, and Cambridge Assessment, among others, attest to the popularity of Mercer | Mettl’s cutting-edge CBT exam solutions.



In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of computer-based tests is essential in today’s educational and professional landscapes. After exploring the various aspects of these assessments, from their advantages like adaptability and quick results to the considerations for test-takers, it is evident that computer-based tests have become integral to modern evaluation methods. Embracing technology in testing enhances efficiency and provides a more accurate reflection of a candidate’s abilities. As we navigate the digital era, being well-informed about computer-based tests empowers individuals to confidently approach assessments, ultimately contributing to a more streamlined and effective evaluation process.



1. How are computer-based tests monitored?

2. Can participants cheat in online CBT exams? 

3. How do you conduct an online CBT exam?

4. How are computer-based tests proctored?

5. How do you attempt computer-based tests?

6. Are all computer-based assessments online assessments?

Originally published August 13 2020, Updated February 16 2024

Written by

Archita Bharadwaj has worked as a Content writer at Mercer | Mettl since April 2023. With her research background, she writes varied forms of content, including blogs, ebooks, and case studies, among other forms.

About This Topic

Online assessments, also known as digital or virtual assessments, are computer-based exams. Online assessments use information technology to empower test-takers to take assessments from anywhere, anytime. Online assessments are widely used by educational institutions and corporations.

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