Adapting exam authoring:
Coming back from Covid stronger

By David Haggie

Has your organisation ever had to adapt as fast as it did this year?

If your answer is ‘never’, you’re not alone.

Most exam providers have found that the strain of responding to the Covid crisis has shown up some cracks in traditional approaches, but it has also created some unexpected opportunities for them too.

This is particularly true in the area of test authoring. Exam boards have to operate one of the world’s most challenging publishing processes, with multiple contributors, tight security, complex workflows the demanding expectation of 100% accuracy.

We’ve spoken to many exam providers about the impact the pandemic has had on them. They’re telling us the crisis has led them to revaluate their offering and authoring processes to keep up with a fast rate of change by focusing on these areas in 2021.

Security of assets

Everything has naturally had to happen remotely during lockdown. In some countries this may persist as home working becomes the norm.

This remote working upheaval has tested traditional assessment security models and, in some cases has exposed flaws. It hasn’t been possible to hold key reviews ‘in the office’, and more contributors now have to utilise laptops or personal devices to get work done – without the right protections in place.

As a result, ensuring online content is secure and resilient has become an urgent priority. It is essential to control which members of a team have access to which items, and it is an ever present worry that authors and reviewers may have confidential content stored on local machines.

These are by no means short-term concerns – having been forced to review security during the crisis, most organisations now don’t think they will go back to the old working methods they once relied on.

These concerns have certainly fuelled the appetite for change. But the security challenge also hides significant opportunity. If it becomes possible to securely engage remote teams, then exam boards can access a much wider talent pool to support their test development processes.

Broadening services

Assessment organisations who anticipate change in the year ahead aren’t just looking to broaden their talent pool, but are looking beyond their traditional offering too.

For boards supporting schools for example, events such as exams cancellation, disruption to learning patterns, and requests to generate fair results based on schools’ own assessment practice have been widespread. These events and the uncertainty they caused have been a headache across the assessment sector, leading exam providers to rethink what they do.

But they also hold the seeds of opportunity.

For many, the challenge of disruption has prompted discussion about offering wider services to test users – for example providing more practice and formative assessment materials or more frequent testing slots.  Sometimes this includes looking at new ways to re-use content originally developed for high-stakes tests.

This search for new directions has also prompted a review of how tests are developed.

One common impact has been an increased interest in item banking, which makes item re-use easier. Item banking also increases ‘flexibility’ – a real keyword for many assessment bodies as they plan for a changing future. 

Computer based testing

The growing recognition of the need to innovate also extends to an increasing interest in onscreen delivery. For some, of course, onscreen testing is well established. But for many others, the review of services seems to have triggered a first interest in adding some e-tests to the service mix.

There has naturally been a great deal of caution around this however, as the consequences are deep. What systems to use to support onscreen test development? What new item and test types become available? What quality model is used to assure the onscreen content? The potential ‘unfreezing’ of plans for e-delivery is likely to have a lasting impact on an organisations direction for many years to come .

Agility and efficiency of workflow

Many organisations feel that they are held back by the limits of their current processes. The ultimate hurdle to growth for many is the poor efficiency of the authoring cycle which limits them from capitalising on opportunities and makes scaling up near impossible.

Of course, whether you’re developing something new or working on one of your well-established products, controlling the development process is critical. The increased emphasis on flexibility – being able to innovate and adapt – makes the question of process control still more important.

Given the complex processes of test creation, achieving meaningful oversight of project progress in a traditional system is very hard – to say nothing about the complexity of swapping out users who become unexpectedly unavailable. Workflow and progress reporting is an area of real challenge for many boards right now.

Despite all these setbacks, the expectation of expanded services is growing, this needs to be a time of innovation where providers do more. What is clear is that the upset to routine could prove to be a defining moment for organisations which are ready to innovate. By acknowledging and addressing these issues at the first opportunity, assessment leaders can achieve the control they need to evolve their offering and meet the market need fully, no matter what the future holds.

David Haggie is the Managing Director of GradeMaker Ltd., a specialist provider of exam authoring technology. Prior to founding GradeMaker, he was Business Development Director at RM where he was instrumental in setting up RM’s assessment business.

  • Do you want to lay a strong foundation for a seamless transition from print to digital?
  • Do you want to be able to monitor the progress of all authoring projects at a glance?
  • Would you like all your typesetting done automatically, at just the press of a button?

At GradeMaker, we have developed secure online tools to help you overcome these and many more challenges. If you want to know if we can help you, just ask us a question here.