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How to Conduct Credible & Secure Large-Scale Examinations?

Examination and Proctoring | 6 Min Read

How to Conduct Credible & Secure Large-Scale Examinations?

The Changing Landscape of Education Due to COVID-19

COVID-19 has already changed the world in more ways than we know. Every institution is undergoing radical transformations to ensure continuity. The pandemic has underlined the need for a long-term solution to prepare for an extended period of transitioning between lockdowns and normalcy.

Education has been one of the most recent domains to adopt modern technology. Many institutions have already postponed their exams (entrance, competitive, semester, final) because of the disruption caused by the ongoing health emergency, rendering several thousands of students in a precarious situation. 

Much has been said about the need to shift to the online mode of pedagogy and examination, even before the onset of the pandemic. With two months into lockdown and counting, the continuity of education, and the future of an entire generation of students are under genuine threat and require ingenious solutions to tide over the crisis.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, shifts in our society have been made, resulting in increased use of technology and more people working remotely or from home instead of going into the office. Schools are being run online, business meetings, financial advisories, etc., through the use of secure software and tools that protect individual privacy and security while using the internet. It is only a matter of time before institutions begin to hold digital or online examinations creating more access and ease for students regardless of their circumstances. As long as proper security guidelines can be followed to ensure a strong connection, and there is a way to monitor the privacy of students, there is no reason online exams should not become a normal method.

Ludovic Rembert
Founder, Privacy Canada

The education industry and its offshoots’ aspiration to embrace technology should be integral to today’s policymaking. Institutions can play a lead role in breaking the mold and adopting technology to leapfrog into the next phase of education and evaluations. 

The present format of most examinations needs to bring a large number of students at one venue, which creates several challenges. Deferring exams is only a short-term solution. It will take longer to flatten the pandemic’s curve and revert to the usual way of life.

How to Overcome Online Examination Challenges?

COVID-19 caused a halt for many educational institutions, which in turn has caused difficulties for students. Many institutions have, therefore, turned to online teachings and tools to help in continuing the education of students. The time has now come for these institutions to consider online examinations. If they want to ensure the future of the working world gets an education, and are unable to reopen due to the virus, this might be the best option that they have. If institutes are looking at implementing online examination software, some of the best aspects to look for are accessibility, security, and usability. The aim is to ensure that examination ‘papers’ can not be modified or accessed prior to the examination date, and that, when the exam does take place, students are able to complete the examination without any issues. We need to utilize the internet to educate future workers, online examinations might be the best option.

Carla Diaz
Cofounder, Broadband Search

Exam Scale

For most institutions, the scale of the exam is the foremost challenge, as tens of thousands of students attempt the tests. Institutions can scale exams by choosing a platform that allows multiple candidates/users to attempt the exam simultaneously, irrespective of their geographical location. The online examination platform should be robust enough to support numerous candidates, offer quick response time and auto-save features, to ensure better scalability while ensuring the utmost security of the exam.

“An online examination platform/software should ideally have a simple interface to create and host exams. It should provide the institution conducting the exam the ability to monitor and distribute correction tasks; to create questions and quizzes of different types; to conduct live exams, with multiple screen shares for proctored exams; to host online fairs with multiple people allowed to demonstrate their projects, and to enable the software to lock down the student’s computer during the duration of the exam, so he/ she can’t do anything but take the test on the computer during the exam. Online examination platforms also need to address issues such as scalability, security, accessibility, credibility, remote proctoring, and ease of use so that institutions can trust them for use. They should allow exams to be conducted at scale with a very low chance of paper leakages and easier tracking of scoring and distribution of reports. The tools should be easy to use with minimal setup and run on low resources.” – Suchin Ravi, Lead Instructor, YoungWonks.

Mercer | Mettl’s delivered 20 million assessments in 2019 on its online examination platform, roughly translating to 53,500 assessments a day, more than 60% of which were remotely proctored. 250+ educational institutions across the globe widely use our platform. Our AI relies on a rich history of data with over five years of experience in proctoring, making us a standout player in the market. We were acknowledged in the prestigious Gartner’s Market Guide for Remote Proctoring Services for Higher Education — the only Indian company to have featured as a recommended vendor for remote proctoring services to support the growth of online learning in higher education. We have a record of conducting a hundred thousand assessments in one day, securely with our state-of-art proctoring solution, guaranteeing a seamless experience for test-takers, even at such a scale.

Exam Security

Many institutions believe that the security of the online exam is usually compromised. A significant challenge for maintaining academic integrity, exam security mostly depends on the examination platform chosen by an educational body. A secure ecosystem is a must while choosing an examination platform. The security of students’ personal data, question bank data of institutions, and the exam results need to be ensured.

The question about how online testing can be effectively and fairly done is essential. Some of the options that have been tried with more or less success include the following:

  • Lockdown browsers prevent you from navigating to other browsers or tabs on your computer during an exam. The problem is most students bypass this by having more than one device open at the same time. 
  • Using a video camera, audio, and identity verification with the lockdown browser. This helps mitigate the problem of using more than one device.
  • Using IP addresses can make sure that the test taker takes the test from the IP address they registered with. 
  • Keyboard logging: Everyone types in a slightly different pattern based on the keyboard, how hard they strike the keys, and typing speed. Logging this and then have a computer flag if there is a discrepancy can be used to identify whether someone else is taking the test for the student. 
  • Giving timed tests: The theory is that if the student really knows the content, they will easily finish on time. Students who do not know the content well and want to look up answers will not finish on time. How do you trim the test time enough to be effective while still not being unfair?” - Leann Poston, M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed., Invigor Medical.

Mercer | Mettl’s platform ensures online exam security through:

A flexible and secure cloud computing environment for data storage and computation services.

Data encryption and security protocol to safeguard against breach of data exchanged over the network between the test-taker & the invigilator.

Maximum security storage environment for the database containing personal information, exam records, and other sensitive details of candidates and clients, ensuring no data is bartered, sold, or used for any other personal purpose or interest, and multiple authentication combinations to address any vulnerability.

Advanced AI-and human-based remote proctoring, anti-cheating features, candidate authorization, secure browser, and geofencing to enhance the security and credibility of the online exam, while controlling malpractices.

Restricted access and viewing, with information tracking powers to monitor who, where and when accessed the data, additionally creating roles with defined access rights.

Multi-factor authentication to ensure only an authorized person can log in.

The pandemic is an extraordinary time and calls for commensurate measures. The administration of any large-scale examination can be complicated and involves the collaboration of diverse stakeholders. With a scalable, secure, credible, and robust platform, it is possible to prototype the test scale and improve it rapidly to ensure the continuity of education.

The Mercer | Mettl Way

With its range of online solutions for education and learning continuity, Mercer | Mettl’s online examination platform has adopted the latest technology, multiple compliances, stringent policies, extensive protocols, regular testing, and internal and external auditing. These measures ensure information privacy and data security at every stage of the examination/assessment process to iron out challenges faced by institutions while shifting to digital examinations. 

Mercer | Mettl’s online examination platform is pre-configured with AI-powered proctoring and equips end-to-end exam management at scale, with unparalleled security. By supporting different question formats, advanced anti-cheating features, comprehensive reports and analytics, and continual tech assistance to students and faculty members, Mercer | Mettl’s online examination platform is the only platform capable of matching your desired scale

Universities have used Mercer | Mettl’s examination platform across the globe for high-stakes entrance and competitive exams, mid-stakes semester exams, and even low-stakes weekly tests and quizzes. 

The Washington Center, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has assisted more than 60,000 students in translating their college majors into viable career opportunities for over four and a half decades. TWC faced numerous challenges, including the absence of a secure and integrated examination platform, unavailability of a user-friendly and precise process, finding a platform compliant with TWC’s validation criteria, lack of provision for proctoring, insecure browsing experience and absence of anti-cheating mechanisms.

Mercer | Mettl’s online examination platform offered its easy-to-use and customizable platform, with a live and manual proctoring provision, 24×7 support, and advanced AI-powered anti-cheating solutions, including secure browser. The platform was smoothly and quickly integrated onto TWC’s system, addressing all bottlenecks and empowering it to conduct large-scale exams with utmost credibility and security.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can online tests detect cheating?

Yes, online tests can detect cheating with the help of a secure online examination system which has features such as:

  • AI-based proctoring that can detect the presence of other devices and people, and also flags when the test-taker is looking away from the screen.
  • Live proctoring in which a human proctor invigilates the exam from a remote location, similar to how an invigilator supervises an exam in a physical exam center. The human proctor can also end the exam if they catch a test-taker using unfair means.
  • Secure browser that locks down the use of other websites, prohibiting the test-taker to move away from the exam screen.
  • Multi-factor candidate authentication with the help of ID, email, and OTP to prevent cases of impersonation.

How can I make my online exam secure?

You can make your online exams secure with the help of a robust online exam software. Here are top 6 ways to make your online exams secure:

  • Live manual video proctoring where a human proctor invigilates the exam from a remote location, similar to a traditional exam. The human proctor can prompt or even end the exam if they find a test-taker indulging in unfair practices. 
  • AI-based proctoring where advanced AI suspects the presence of other devices like mobile phones or other electronic devices. It also flags the presence of additional people as well as detects when the test-taker looks away from the screen.
  • Secure exam browser increase online exam security by preventing test-takers from opening other websites and windows that might help them in the exam. If the test-taker attempts to leave the exam screen, the AI flags it and the test-taker receives a warning,
  • Multi-factor authentication curbs instances of impersonation as it requires the test-takers to show an ID proof, authenticate through their email, and type in an OTP. Geofencing or IP-based authentication also enhance online exam security.
  • Log report is a detailed audio and video report with logs of all AI flags as well as a chronological documentation of all activities of the test-taker such as start time, navigation between questions, logout, etc. 
  • Data encryption prevents unauthorized access and securely stores the question paper and sensitive personal information in an encrypted environment.

How are online tests monitored?

Online tests can be monitored through different ways. Online exam portals make use of the internet and webcam to monitor the test-taker. Here are some of the features through which online tests can be monitored:

  • Through AI-based proctoring where an advanced software monitors the exam screen and flags when the test-takers use any other electronic device, or talk to another person, or look away from the exam screen.
  • Through human-based proctoring, which is similar to a traditional exam setup. A human proctor supervises the test-takers from a remote location. The human proctor can prompt the test-takers, give them warnings, or end their exams if they suspect any malpractices.
  • In addition to these, online examination systems also use secure browsers to prevent the test-taker from taking help from any other website or resources on the internet. Multiple layers of candidate authentication also ensure better exam security.

What does it mean to scale a test?

Scaling a test means making it accessible to many people at once. A physical exam center will soon be replaced by an online exam platform due to the latter’s efficiency in scale, reachability, and cost. The use of an online exam security software maintains the same level of integrity and security of an exam, like in a physical examination, while allowing an institute to scale exams and make education reach numerous people in the farthest and remotest corners of the world.

Originally published June 22 2020, Updated September 23 2020

Bhuvi Kathpalia

Written by

Bhuvi is a content marketer at Mercer | Mettl. She's helped various brands find their voice through insightful thought pieces and engaging content. When not scandalizing people with her stories, you’ll find her challenging gender norms, dancing to her own tune, and crusading through life, laughing.

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