Remember writing your exams ‘way back when’ on hardcopy exam papers, with a ballpoint pen, and a tube of Tippex on standby? Examiners had to decipher handwriting, manually record results, and transport and store papers. What about the times they had to reprint papers because of errors and leaks!
It’s hard to believe that in the age of tech innovation approaching 2020, that exams are mostly written in the same way.
Computer-based examinations allow results to be instantly submitted, new exams to be distributed at the click of a button, results to be calculated electronically, detailed statistics provide a multitude of opportunities to enhance learning. It also emulates the real world that learners step into.
Of course there are challenges with computer-based exams, such as lack of funding, skills to deploy, and access to expensive technology.
An experienced adopter of the use of technology in the exam process is the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA), taking the leap of faith 4 years ago and continuously pushing boundaries to perfect its use to not only serve the exam process, but also the students writing and submitting these critical papers
Firstly, the risks of making this change had to be assessed. And let’s face it, actuaries understand risk! With the actuarial degree being one of the world’s most sought after and highly remunerated, there can simply be no compromise and zero tolerance for error:
Costs – it is not feasible to buy hundreds of computers for students to write exams twice a year.
Technology – Software has to be intuitive and failsafe. ‘The cloud’ has many offerings, but what about connectivity?
Logistics – How do these get set up, on time? An exam date cannot be moved. The location also changes, and it is a logistical challenge getting ready for every exam.
Risks – What happens when tech fails? Load-shedding, computer crashes, failure to save data, theft, and damage are all real risks.
Identification – The submitted results need to be matched to a candidate
Writing on paper sounds a lot safer! However, this did not deter ASSA, who persisted in developing a solution. Working with Go Rentals and Wordprint, the ASSA has successfully completed computerized exams for thousands of students. Rented computers are deployed to any venue in the country, already prepared and tested.
“The Actuarial Science exam requires complete focus. The student cannot afford any distractions such as tech failures. The choice of our technology service provider is one we take extremely seriously”, says Maryvonne Palanduz, the Operations Executive of the ASSA. “The exam must happen on the day, and all risks need to be anticipated to ensure the exam goes ahead.”
in the past couple of years, the growth in exams being conducted on a rented computer in South Africa has grown exponentially, with temporary equipment set up on any selected site before the examinations and taken down on completion.
If you are considering it yourself, Ron Keschner, Director at Go Rentals, provides some technical tips:
- QUALITY: Use good quality business-grade equipment. We suggest main brands (Dell, Lenovo.HP)
- PREPARATION AND TESTING: All software should be pre-loaded. All hardware must be tested, including mice and keyboards. Test the whole setup (including network and server) before deploying to site. Don’t leave the troubleshooting to the day.
- SPARE HARDWARE:Make sure enough backup hardware is available in the event of damage (or theft). This includes laptops, servers, switches. Ensure it is hot-swappable.
- CAPACITY: Ensure service providers have capacity to deliver and their own contingency planning for risks such as theft, and extra staffing.
- STANDARDISE: Standardise the entire setup to increase efficiency and reduce technical costs
- SUPPORT: Ensure you have technical support on hand, and a pre-determined plan for each support type and risk
- HEALTH AND SAFETY: Ensure proper electrical installation and cable safety.
- POWER: Make sure the exam can continue without power.
- TIME: Venues cost money, and often you do not have the luxury of setup times. Ensure you have left yourself enough time to set up. Prepare everything in advance.
“Doing all of this yourself is massively expensive,” adds Ron. “However, it is very achievable using the right service provider who has economies of scale.”