What Difficulties Will Students Face Due to Online Exams?

Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and colleges have been trying to protect their staff and students from this dangerous infection by moving all their processes online. These rapid changes have been far from easy, and caused some challenges for students, and online exams, in particular, have become a big thorn in the side of the educational system. Online education problems are now on the rise and we need to find out ways to reduce negative effects.

The students are not happy either. Let’s find out why so many of them are opposed to online exams and whether there is anything educators can do to help them adopt this practice.

1. Top online exam problems: Poor access to technology

In order to pass an online exam, you need at least a decently functioning computer and a steady internet connection. Your school might also require you to have a microphone for speaking,  a webcam for a web exam, or other devices, which challenges, as a student may not have money to buy those things.But what are you supposed to do if you don’t have any of these?

It may be hard to believe, but not everyone has a computer, even in developed countries. This aspect causes problems in the online examination system. For example, one study shows that only 79% of American K-12 students have access to computing devices, while 40% of low-income students lack reliable internet at home. Other research shows that 63% of college students in the UK have poor Wi-Fi connectivity, and 24% are struggling to pay for mobile internet. Of course, this was not considered as a problem before online learning and taking exams remotely, but now it is one of the prior challenges of online learning.

These findings reveal a deep digital divide in education systems worldwide, and as per usual, underprivileged students have it the worst. Basically, they cannot achieve their full academic potential simply because they don’t have a computer or the internet. And when it comes to exams, they have greater chances of failing due to circumstances beyond their control. The urgency of the problem is supported by the fact that the web examination failed by 30% of students because of the absence of a stable internet connection.

Is there anything we can do about it?

Yes. The governments, educational establishments, and internet providers can join efforts to bridge the digital divide. Schools and colleges should make sure their students and teachers have all the necessary means for an online exam to take place. They can also lend them computers or tablets for periods of time. This online exam help may drastically reduce the number of failed exams in the nearest future.

Poor access to technology is one of the top online exam problems

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

2. Overly aggressive online test proctoring

Many educators seem to think that the only way to prevent cheating during taking exams online is to monitor students’ every movement and click. Of all online exam problems, this practice is unnecessarily invasive despite being highly effective. 

Students say that being watched via webcams during taking the exam makes them feel uncomfortable, anxious, and most importantly, they believe it prevents them from giving their best performance on a test. Moreover, while taking online exams students can also be asked to share their screens, show their desk and their whole room, and even grant remote access to their computers as part of the monitoring process. Most people would be extremely uncomfortable with any of these rules, so why should students be forced to choose between their privacy and grades?

One of the mechanical students from Chicago shared his experience with college exams online. According to him, extra surveillance and excessive behavior of the teacher caused him a panic attack, just during the test online.

Here’s a logical solution

Proctoring can be avoided by modifying online tests to reduce the need for surveillance. Exam making for teachers may become more difficult but on the other hand, taking an exam in such conditions may happen to be more effective and can minimize the pressure.

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3. Unreliable exam platforms

Students’ online testing must be protected by all means. In order to conduct an online test properly, organizers need to make sure that everyone involved can access the platform safely. Establishing a secure and encrypted connection is the first step. Unfortunately, some educational institutions fail to take it, thus endangering their students and causing unpleasant remote exams issues.

Another security risk lies in the software used to conduct tests, which usually comes from third parties. These programs are not hacker-proof. Therefore, if an application used by your school suffers a cyberattack, the data of any teacher or student who is using it may be compromised.

How can we solve this problem?

Schools and colleges should invest more money in their security systems. They can create their own exam software and use multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing their systems, making online tests for students safer.

4. Not everyone is great at typing

Online exams are especially challenging for students who are not used to writing on their computers. They can spend a huge bulk of the exam simply typing the words they want to say, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to their peers who can produce more than 300 characters per minute. Such students may need extra help in exam in order to be able to take a test online properly.

We have talked to some students, who did face these challenges of online learning and found out that actually speed of typing has been a real burden for nearly a quarter of students. They said they have failed tester exam due to this problem.

“They say take test online, come on, it is easier, but it is not like this at all. Take my exam for example last week. I wasn’t quick enough to finish all of the gaps correctly and made a bunch of mistakes. You can’t type quickly and get nervous because of this and eventually fail. Make the exam in another way, please” – told us a nursing student Amelia.

So, what is the solution?

Students should be allowed to use speech-to-text software that recognizes what they are saying and automatically transforms it into text with appropriate punctuation marks. It is believed to be an immense help for exam taking for students who struggle with this problem.

Photo by Damian Zaleski on Unsplash

5. Online STEM exams can be tricky

Problems with remote learning are not coming to an end. Here is what you did not know about students’ exams as well. When you’re taking a math test in the classroom, you’re usually given plenty of paper to write the solution to the problem. However, this is not always the case with a remote exam. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to perform calculations in your notebook before entering your answer in the exam program. But if you’re not, you’ll have to draw formulas and diagrams on your computer, which can take more time than simply writing them down.

We can fix this issue

Educators could use specialized software that allows students to quickly draw graphs and formulas and insert them in the application used for online testing. Of course, it is important to make sure the students know how to use these programs before they take the exam.

So… is it all worth it?

It’s plain to see that exams online pose certain challenges for students. With that in mind, we should ask ourselves, is there any point in making them compulsory? 

Before 2020, online education was an option, but then it became the only possible way to conduct courses. Now, things are getting back to normal, and fully vaccinated students are going back to classes. Therefore, it makes sense to let them choose between in-person and online exams to pick the option that works best for them. It depends on whether they are feeling comfortable sitting at home or not, are they ready to face the online education challenges we described above?

Of course, the health of students and educators is and should remain a priority. Schools and colleges must provide a safe environment for everyone to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Moreover, we must admit that the student online test as we know it today is far from perfect. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and educators need to listen to the concerns of students, accommodate their needs, and respect their privacy. These changes will require a lot of investment, but hopefully, we’ll be able to improve testing online eventually.

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Steven Bloom
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Steven is an IT student who constantly seeks new opportunities for self-development. He is also fond of popular culture and entertainment. Lately, Steven has started writing about the challenges he faces as a student. He finds it helpful to brainstorm when difficult tasks arise.