Could pen and paper exams soon be a thing of the past?

Pen and paper exams should be scrapped by 2025 as part of an effort to overhaul the assessment system, a report has suggested.

Think exams, think rows of desks with pens and pencils lined up for scribbling down your answers, but this kind of set up could soon become a think of the past according to a new report.

Instead, technology could be used to test pupils’ knowledge.

The study, by the education technology not-for-profit Jisc, said: “Technology offers opportunities to test knowledge and skills in a more realistic and motivating way than pen and paper tests, which can appear irrelevant outside the academic world”.

Jisc’s report on “the future of assessment”, published on Monday, set out five principles and targets for UK colleges and universities to follow over the next five years with the aim of helping to digitise how students are assessed.

The move to a more digital way of assessment won’t come as a complete surprise as according to the research there has already been a “move away from the traditional essay or exam” with students already being asked “to develop websites, set up online profiles, shoot and edit videos, and use social media” as part of the testing process.

If used properly, then technologies could help transform the way students are evaluated so that it is more beneficial for their future careers.

And there could be benefits to teaching staff too, with some of the administrative burden lowered or removed.

Andy McGregor, director of edtech at Jisc, said: “If used well as part of good assessment design, then emerging technologies can transform the way students are evaluated so that it is more relevant to their careers, more accessible and more secure, while promoting wellbeing and removing some of the administrative burden on teaching staff.”

Another advantage of more digital testing could be to help prevent exam cheating with the report citing the use of technology in exams, such as fingerprints, elsewhere in the world.

The report highlights the use of digital exams for more than five millions students in India.

They used an e-card with their thumbprint and photo to access the examination room, while a photo and thumbprint taken on computers on the day of the exam are attached to the attendance sheet which must also be signed by the student.

While the research claims technology could make assessment “smarter, faster, fairer and more effective”, the pace of change in the UK is currently “too slow.”

But there are some educational environments were change is taking place with Bolton College’s work on natural language processing in assessment highlighted as a positive example.

The college in Greater Manchester is exploring if students can give answers and receive automated feedback based on model answers provided by teaching staff.

Elsewhere, Preston College in Lancashire uses a 360-degree camera to review work in the dance studio and Newcastle University is moving towards digital exams.

Commenting on the report a Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We know there is potential for technology to be a force for good for schools, colleges and universities.

“Our recently launched EdTech Strategy set out our aim to support and enable the education sector in England to help develop and embed technology in a way that cuts workload, fosters efficiencies, removes barriers to education and ultimately drives improvements in educational outcomes.”