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Exam boards plan for digital tests

  • January 15, 2024
  • 3 min read
Exam boards plan for digital tests

Students will be given the option to take all GCSEs on-screen by 2030, beginning with English next summer. Exam boards including Pearson Edexcel has announced that up to 125,000 students could choose to take GCSE English language and literature on-screen in summer by 2025 subject to approval. Schools will still have the option for paper-based exams however.

Sharon Hague, managing director for Pearson Schools, described it as a “pivotal moment” adding that they have heard “loud and clear from students and teachers that they want a choice in how they take exams”.

“This absolutely isn’t the end of pen-and-paper exams. It’s about opening up more ways for all students to best show what they know and can do. By 2030, our ambition is for all GCSEs to have both paper-based and onscreen formats.”

Pearson added an on-screen element to its GCSE computer science in 2022 and has piloted on-screen tests in international GCSEs.

Doing so, Hague added, offers “better experience for students who need accessibility adjustments”.

“Students can zoom in to increase font size and choose colour filters on-screen during exams, something their schools or college would otherwise need to request in advance of their exams. Onscreen brings benefits for all students too. They can highlight and annotate information, cut and paste text and make easy edits to their answers. It’s what many students are used to doing when they work at home and in the classroom and it’s undoubtedly how they will work in their careers too.”

Other exam boards have announced similar plans. Back in October, AQA, England’s largest exam board, set a timeline to move some exams on-screen. Its goal is for subjects including English to be digital by 2030. Research from the board found that a lack of infrastructure including devices in certain schools was one of the biggest obstacles to digital exams. OCR, another exam board, announced recently that any pupil sitting GCSE computer science will be able to sit digital instead of paper by 2025.

Exam regulator Ofqual is currently undertaking a feasibility study with the government, looking into “what it would take” to make GCSE and A-levels digital.  

Ofqual chief regulator Sir Ian Bauckham said the regulator is “committed to supporting well-evidenced innovation in how examinations are taken. We will evaluate in detail Pearson’s proposals when they are submitted for review.  Our priority will be making sure the approach is fair to all students, whether they take their GCSE on screen or continue to do so on paper.”

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Emma Trehane

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