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Electronic Examinations - A Simple Primer

October 17, 2011 by Phil Smith (5 Comments)


Electronic examination, in a nutshell, refers to exams taken using software. That software at a minimum should allow instructors to create and edit exams, present those exams, record students’ answers, and then grade the exam. In this blog I’ll present the general workflow of creating, administrating, and grading exams. This flow will need to be tweaked for your specific needs.

The (very) basic workflow has the following steps:

electronic examinations workflow image

The faculty member(s) create the exam – this can be done as an individual but some systems provide collaboration. The questions are then added from a question bank or created from scratch. Scores are set for each question and a passing grade is set for the exam. The exam can then be scheduled to run at from certain time and date. The scheduling can be done either by faculty members or by support staff.

The exam is then delivered to the students, either through a web browser or other client. Some solutions provide a security application that will lock down a pc or mac, depending on the vendor, preventing network access, hardware access such as the USB port or the hard drive, and even disable right-clicking on the mouse or screen-grabbing. This behavior can be quite invasive however, in my experience this may activate anti-virus software which recognizes it as an attack. In the case of windows at least, windows groups may be a better option for securing the computer.

For the traditional exam environment students come to a computer lab to sit their exam, they can also do open book exams over the web.

Grading is automatic, most solutions give the option of providing a grade immediately or at a later date. Immediately means that students’ final scores, and whether they are passing grades, are presented on screen once the exam is completed.

It should be noted that when running an electronic exam in the tradition environment it is the recommended practice that you always have a backup plan. ICT equipment can suffer failures and being able to roll-back to “Plan B” is generally better than cancelling an exam outright (more on this in a later post).

This entry can also be found at:

I've never run an electronic exam (though have taken a few!) and so it is really interesting to start to think about the difficulties they pose; disabling the USB ports etc is really interesting! - as well as the benefits they solve, such as the students receiving automated marks straight away. I always appreciated that as a student.

Thanks for the blog Phil, look forward to reading more in the future.


Tierney 3295 days ago

You can also structure the feedback (depending on your system) that students get. For instance, letting them review their incorrect questions even without giving them their grade can reduce faculty office hours dramatically.


Phil Smith 3295 days ago

We have tried to run computerised exams but there have been a few problems so we have taken a step back to investigate the whole design and implementation of such exams. The huge advantage is that they allow the use of high quality images, whether photographs of clinical conditions or radiographic/ultrasound images. Our main problems have been system crashes halfway through exams, and having back-up paper copies for every student then tends to lead you to think why not just do a paper exam? We also had problems in one exam where uploaded images revealed what they were if the mouse was scrolled over them! But that was a software incompatibility problem that we can avoid in future!

cagray 3294 days ago

Do you mind me asking if what software you were using? One of the challenges we face is the number of students. We can have 160+ taking exams at the same time and that puts a huge strain on the testing system.

Phil Smith 3294 days ago

At the faculty of veterinary medicine University of Utrecht we started a project to find an e-assessment application which provide us the possibility of taking an exam on students own laptops.

We set up a program of requirements and sent these requirements to a number of software suppliers to receive their response on the list of requirements. A soon as we have more detailed information I will let you now.


Do you have any experience with suppliers of e-assessment application who facilitate in wire less examination on students laptops.

Haarhuis 3282 days ago