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What is a computer-based test? Here’s everything you need to know


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. Assessments have long been employed for the evaluation process. 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 a necessity, can assessments be left behind?

Not at all! That is why 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 that incurs 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 is beneficial for invigilators and students as they are now highly receptive to digital technologies.

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


What is a computer-based test?

Computer based exam_banner 1


The need for conducting computer-based examinations has rightly increased, given the post-pandemic challenges. The global pandemic has underlined the challenges and vulnerabilities the education sector is facing. There are serious concerns about building a resolute framework to keep academia immune to such disruptions. Well, CBT provides a scaffold by minimizing the administrative burden of conducting examinations on 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.

In computer-based testing (CBT), computer technology is employed, which means the candidates use computers to answer questions presented on the monitor. The test-taker submits the answer using a keyboard or a mouse. The computer which the test taker is using can be referred to as a client computer. In contrast, the computer used for delivering the exam while being connected on an intranet/internet is referred to as 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 term “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 that is 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.


Benefits of using computer-based tests

Computer-based testing can be used most effectively for several academic purposes, certifications tests, or during pre-employment screening processes that have 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 than ever. Besides, computer-based tests offer multiple benefits to candidates and administrators in administering, grading and scaling up the process.

Let us take a closer look at the benefits that CBTs entail:


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 give their test. The test window usually extends between 1-3 weeks, allowing aspirants to choose a convenient slot.

Computer adaptive testing

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


There are various security features inherent in computer-based testing to ensure that the test integrity is maintained. In addition, online proctoring and various available security features make CBT a highly secure mode of assessment.

Wide reach

When social distancing and restricted traveling are globally accepted norms in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, conducting online exams from any corner of the world has given hope to universities. Unlike the olden examination approach, students can appear for an online computer-based exam from a place of their choosing and select an exam slot as per 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 their locations. Additionally, a stellar computer-based exam software can support over 100,000 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 that focus on digital learning games and evaluate their rationale behind making specific decisions, online program instructors can personalize and tailor-make future learning experiences for each student.


A computer-based test can also accommodate the needs of differently-abled people by enabling them to take up assessments more conveniently instead of a pen-and-paper test. Moreover, the integration of 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 specially-abled candidates.

Saves time and energy

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



Applications of computer-based tests

While computer-based tests have multiple applications, we have listed below some of the key areas where these tests are becoming increasingly popular:


Computer based exam key area


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. One reason is that computer testing continues to offer numerous benefits when compared to pen-and-paper tests. Some of its advantages are:


Computer based exam_Infographuc 2


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, it was challenging to keep students from indulging in cheating practices, 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 aims to catalyze the exam processes and tackle the challenges concerning the facilitation of examination, result report generation, and end-to-end process management. The use of CBT in administering tests will negate the possibility of human errors that are evident during conducting, marking, and scoring an exam. Furthermore, remote proctoring technologies’ Intergrations can curb 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 whole 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 not only help instructors assess the effectiveness of their teaching but 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 for today’s most demanded skills exist, 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 that have predetermined standards for certification success.

Let us delve deeper into the world of certifications to accentuate its different facets:


What is certification?


Certification is an assessment, audit or review of a person, organization or object under consideration. There are myriads of certifications in our world today. There are certifications for persons, products and businesses. There are certifications for greenhouse gases as well. We can broadly classify certifications into three categories:


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  • A first-party certification is when a person or business offering product/services assure that 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 that an individual or organization has to rely on other associations to provide the assurance. An association, in this regard, provides an approval mark for a particular market segment. Individuals or organizations have to meet the 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


There are two types of certifications in general, namely:


Types of certifications


Internal certifications

Organizations use internal certifications to impart hands-on knowledge to the 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 deemed crucial for an organization’s learning and development strategy.

External certifications

External certification agencies provide external certifications. Such bodies provide accreditations in a specific industry for a particular domain. There are various kinds of external certifications; some of these are listed below:

Skills certifications

If someone asks you about your health and you reply, saying,” I did a hundred pushups.” It would be an ambiguous response. Not because doing pushups is a waste, but because it expresses very little about your health status. Similarly, when someone asks you about your education, you respond,” I graduated in 1998 in Arts.” It is equally ambiguous. Not because your college education does not matter, but because it provides minimal information about your experience and knowledge today. For many years, the degree played a pivotal part in every individual’s professional journey. Professionals used to climb the corporate ladder and retire after a long, satisfying stint at the same company.

However, the world is not the same anymore. Things have changed substantially and drastically. The world of work is changing, skills and jobs are becoming obsolete much faster than one can imagine. Therefore, professionals must consistently upgrade their skill sets while considering future uncertainties to stay abreast with the changes. Most importantly, they need a common language of skills that stays unchanged across industries. Skills certification is the language that can provide an expression to validate those skills. It is not just about labeling someone as ”skilled,” but it also provides a level playing field in which 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, also known as IT certifications, are known worldwide as the standard for ascertaining the credibility of information technology professionals. 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. The holders of such certificates are expected to possess a strong understanding of their specific software discipline. The IT certification, often followed by a computer-based test, is awarded after an individual has demonstrated the requisite skills, knowledge and abilities in his/her respective domain. E.g., Oracle certification, Certified Data Professional (CDP), Microsoft certification, etc.

Financial certifications:

Professional finance certifications are indispensable tools if someone considers a career in this domain or is already working in this space. These certifications can tremendously 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 and quantitative finance, etc.

Healthcare certifications:

Healthcare is a domain wherein an individual must fulfill all educational requirements before considering professional certifications. Once they satisfy all eligibility and essential requirements, they can select a healthcare certification program that aligns with their desired career goals. However, one should plan and research beforehand concerning 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 certifications enable aspirants to get into the healthcare industry or transition from a different industry.One such example of healthcare certifications is a Certification in Nursing (Nursing Certification): The more specialized the nurses are, the better equipped they are to treat their patients with utmost care and concern. With nursing certifications comes the validation of a person's knowledge and competencies. That is why healthcare facilities also lay great emphasis on certificates when it comes to recruiting nurses.

Language certifications

Multilingualism has never been more essential a skill, considering today's interconnected world. Workplaces have become more diverse, with employees from diverse cultural/ethnic backgrounds working in unison to attain organizational objectives. In this globally connected world, effective communication skills are crucial for students to reach their true north. 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. That is why safety certifications are well-established standards that organizations can use to structure their health and safety management framework. In addition, such certifications can enable organizations to convey to their regulators, employees, and clients/customers that health and safety are at the forefront of their business operations. For example, Organizations in the United States can put a premium on workplace safety by conducting safety certification programs approved by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). And what better way to conduct certifications than to leverage computer-based exams in the process.

Government certifications

Government certifications are accredited by the government body hosting a certification program to 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 skill 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 for candidates better than ever.


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. The system enables the live monitoring of examinees’ screens from the farthest locations through remote proctoring solutions. 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 not as tedious as it seems. It is pretty easy to run a web-based computerized exam on an online computer-based examination platform. It is the user-friendliness of an online CBT platform that makes it a holistic online exam solution provider. The computer-based evaluation process consists of the following steps:


computer-based evaluation process steps


Step 1: Set-up the exam

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

Step 2: Invite test-takers

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

Step 3: Authorize and proctor 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.



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

About the institution


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 its notable academic courses, the institute facilitates research, provides consulting services, conducts seminars, educational conferences, and publishes insightful journals.




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.

Preserve the 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.




After careful consideration, IIMB was recommended a suite of Mercer | Mettl’s online technologies:

  • Online Examination Platform
  • Mettl’s Proctoring as a Service (MPaaS)

Both these value propositions were aligned with IIMB’s existing requirements and its future needs to enable blended learning.




  • The institute witnessed a drastic reduction in cheating cases after shifting to Mercer | Mettl’s examination tools.
  • With Mercer | Mettl’s automated result feature, the results were generated 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

  • Undeniably, physical examinations are not without their challenges, posing great difficulties for academic institutions, administrators and students alike. Mercer | Mettl’s web-based examination platform is an all-in-one, integrated system to digitize academic examinations. The leading SaaS-Based CBT software conducts online exams most 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 the 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 whole examination cycle, empowering faculty and administrators to design, schedule, 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 candidate’s exam-taking experience.
  • With these solutions, the 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. The state-of-the-art platform can simplify the demanding task of conducting computer-based exams and certifications at scale with stringent anti-cheating protocols.
  • Numerous prestigious universities and institutes worldwide, including IIMB, IIMC, IIML, The Washington Center, Cambridge Assessment, among others, attest to the popularity of Mercer | Mettl’s cutting-edge CBT exam solutions.



We have listed the answers to the most typical concerns in the FAQ section:

Which is better: a paper-based test or a computer-based test?

How are computer-based tests monitored?

Can participants cheat in online CBT exams?

How do you conduct an online CBT exam?

How are computer-based tests proctored?

How to attempt computer-based tests?

Originally published August 13 2020, Updated October 4 2021

Abhilash Malguri

Written by

Abhilash works with the Content Marketing team of Mercer|Mettl. He has been contributing his bit to the world of online business for some years now. Abhilash is experienced in content marketing, along with SEO. He’s fond of writing useful posts, helping people, traveling, and savoring delicacies.

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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