CBT or pen-and-paper exam- which is better and why?
For many years, paper-and-pen testing has been the most prominent option to evaluate a candidate but computer-based testing is becoming the preferred choice.
Certification and licensure examinations were created to measure the knowledge and competence of an individual, thereby determining if they are competent to practice a certain profession.
For many years, paper-and-pen (P&P) testing has been the most prominent option to evaluate a candidate. And while P&P tests have traditionally fulfilled this testing need, computer-based testing (CBT) is increasingly becoming the preferred choice; largely because of the host of advantages it offers.
With the growing need for flexible, secure, and transparent testing methods to evaluate candidates, for large-scale and high-stake assessments, CBT has become the de facto standard. Many test sponsors have transitioned from P&P tests, and leading test providers are assisting sponsors across the globe to successfully implement CBT. CBT providers closely work with test sponsors to determine the testing model most beneficial for both candidates and the organisation.
Through this modern method of examination, test providers get the opportunity to choose new and innovative ways to assess candidates, leading to a more authentic assessment. With the use of modern psychometric measures, CBT facilitates item response theory (IRT), which is the most accepted standard for high-stakes assessment. IRT also opens avenues for the use of different test administration models that cannot be used in P&P tests; thereby enhancing measurement efficiency significantly.
Greater flexibility and accuracy
Through CBT, tests can be taken remotely, eliminating the need for physical presence in a specific location, which is mandatory in the case of paper-and-pen tests. Also, computer-based tests can be tailored to meet the needs of individual test-takers. They can adjust the difficulty level of questions based on the candidate’s responses, i.e., facilitating adaptive testing. This approach helps each test-taker to receive a customised and accurate assessment of their abilities.
Adaptive testing algorithms help ensure that the test accurately measures the individual’s abilities and provides a more precise assessment. The major advantage of adaptive testing is that it efficiently determines the candidate’s proficiency level with a smaller number of questions compared to traditional fixed-form tests. Also, computer-based adaptive testing makes it challenging for candidates to predict or cheat on the test. Since the order and difficulty of questions vary for each individual, it reduces the risk of collusion and cheating.
Greater security and standardisation
Because P&P testing involves handing over test papers from one person to another involved in the administration, the risk of the test getting exposed or leaked is greater. CBT also offers improved security measures compared to P&P tests. Online platforms can implement various security protocols to prevent cheating and help maintain the integrity of the testing process. Most CBT providers use the latest encryption technology to deliver tests through their secure network. When the test is downloaded to the test centre, it is held in a secure state at all times prior to test delivery. Also, CBT involves an extensive and multi-layered candidate screening procedure instead of just a standard ID verification – for example, use of biometric technology to verify the candidates’ identity, and monitoring the candidates constantly through virtual proctoring.
Furthermore, CBT offers a professional, standardised, and consistent testing environment, as well as more flexible testing opportunities. CBT allows for the creation and administration of standardised tests, ensuring that all candidates receive the same set of instructions, test format, and timing. This consistency eliminates variations that can occur with P&P tests, such as variations in test administration, human error in grading, or differences in question presentation.
A timely and efficient delivery of results
With CBT, results are often generated immediately after completing the test.
This provides immediate feedback to both the test-taker and the administrator. CBT allows for efficient data collection and analysis. Test results can be automatically stored and organised, facilitating comprehensive data analysis for research purposes or evaluating treatment outcomes. While implementation of CBT may involve initial setup costs, it can be cost-effective in the long run. Eliminating the need for paper, printing, and manual scoring can lead to cost savings. Moreover, CBT contributes to environmental sustainability by reducing paper waste.
Through significant technological advancements, CBT not only offers a far superior test experience, but also, through layered security, offers higher exam credibility for test sponsors. With an ever-growing list of benefits of CBT, there is little wonder that so many test sponsors have successfully made the transition.
The author is vice president EMEA & Asia, Pearson VUE. Views expressed are personal.