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 online exams, in particular, have become a big thorn in the side of the educational system.

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, a webcam, or other devices. 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 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.

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. 

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.

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 online exams 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 makes them feel uncomfortable, anxious, and most importantly, they believe it prevents them from giving their best performance on a test. Moreover, they can 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?

Here’s a logical solution

Proctoring can be avoided by modifying online tests to reduce the need for surveillance.

3. Unreliable exam platforms

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 online exam 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.

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.

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.

Photo by Damian Zaleski on Unsplash

5. Online STEM exams can be tricky

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 online exams. 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 an online test. Of course, it is important to make sure the students know how to use these programs before they start the exam.

So… is it all worth it?

It’s plain to see that online exams 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.

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 online exams as we know them today are 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 online exams 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.