The New Normal Takes Testing Online

Tanya Davis sees the benefits of online testing

While academic institutions around the world struggle to decide the way forward for the upcoming school year, how to test students safely and accurately is often at the forefront of their decision making. There is no way around it. We must embrace new methods so that testing as well as the entire academic process can continue. It is no longer a choice but an imperative.

The Fear of Change
Comfort and familiarity resonate so strongly that we continue to ignore the deluge of research clearly outlining how the process negatively affects test takers and their results. Trifoni and Shahini describe a correlation between a student’s test anxiety and how it affects motivation, concentration, and achievement negatively. They go on to show how anxiety increases errors during the exam and creates problems recalling the material previously learned. Additionally, Peyman and Sadighi’s research on the English language learner finds a negative correlation between a test taker’s level of stress and their performance on reading comprehension of English tests. None of this is new or surprising information. Yet the pull of what is familiar has led to a lack of testing improvements and innovation.

The Transition to Online Testing
The emergence of COVID-19 and the move to online programs has led to the development of myriad online testing software options. Security is often discussed as the main concern of online testing, but not only is the technology to maintain a secure online testing environment available, it has been around for quite some time. Artificial intelligence (AI) is used to monitor a test taker’s behavior and flag instances of noncompliant actions, such as looking at a cell phone or speaking to another person during the test. Tests are recorded and/or proctored remotely to enable a secure testing experience. AI is also used to evaluate sections of the assessments, which means faster, and in some cases more accurate, test results. For those who worry that software like a spell check will give the test taker an advantage they would not have had in a classroom or test center, studies show that spell checks rarely make a writer’s writing better, but in fact can actually decrease a person’s ability to recognize errors and cause them to make changes to writing that are suggested but aren’t grammatically correct, due to overconfidence in spell-check software. For those who are still not convinced, there are even ways to disable such programs during a test.

Institutional Benefits
Testing online helps us keep up with the increasingly fast pace of society. Not having to reserve a seat for a test means more tests can be taken in a shorter period. This is not only highly beneficial for educational institutions, which must wait for test results before admitting students (and receiving their tuition), but also equally important for corporations that require tests be completed as part of the hiring process or for career advancement. Immigration could greatly benefit from online testing since proof of language proficiency is often required. This can result in serious processing delays, preventing the applicants, many of whom are highly skilled workers, from joining the workforce and, in turn, benefiting the economy.

Benefits for the Test Taker
For test takers, the transition to online testing can be incredibly positive. Less stress due to not needing to travel to a test center at a defined date and time and avoiding a room full of nervous test takers means a more relaxed test-taking experience, possibly from the comfort of their own home. In the instances where a reliable internet connection is not available to every household, or when living conditions do not allow for a quiet workspace, one solution could be for the community to step in. Libraries, community centers, and youth centers could help support online testing opportunities by providing a quiet workspace, a computer, and a secure internet signal, when needed and where possible.

The purpose of a test is to provide opportunities for the individuals taking it to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and abilities. We want test takers to succeed. If test takers succeed, it begins a domino effect of success. Schools get better results; universities admit students who do groundbreaking research; companies hire highly skilled people who promote innovation and ingenuity. Therefore, it only makes sense that we provide a testing experience that encourages the most authentic demonstration of the person’s abilities. We can do this by providing the test taker with choice—choice of when and where to take the test, without the need for extensive travel or high costs. We can do this by regularly providing testing online.

References and links available at https://www.languagemagazine.com/davis-links/.

Tanya Davis ([email protected]) is the founder and CEO of PELMO International, an online proof of English language testing system for secondary and postsecondary program admissions and corporate hiring and career advancement. PELMO’s mission is to challenge the status quo of English language testing and empower the test taker by providing a unique testing experience that is low stress, confidence building, and highly accurate.

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