High stakes assessments have been around for a long time. Records from China dating back 5,000 years indicate exams being used in the selection process for civil service positions, for example.

And throughout history, the use of pen and paper has undoubtedly been the most common method of assessment. Now, however, the opportunity to use computers or other devices to deliver tests digitally brings a raft of potential benefits compared with traditional assessment methods.

Benefits of Computer-Based Testing (CBT)


  • More frequent testing opportunities

CBT offers flexible delivery of tests through test administration windows. The full spectrum of delivery models is available – from single-day test administration (similar to that used in many paper tests) to continuous availability for on-demand testing, or anything in between.

The administrative approach chosen for a particular program will influence subsequent decisions, including candidate access, test security, item exposure, forms assembly, publishing frequency and standard setting. If you can offer tests at additional points during the year, this gives students the opportunity to pass their tests and qualify faster, which could help make your course specification more appealing.

  • Data rich results

Paper testing provides only the basic information required for simple analysis (item number, response and the answer key) whereas technology-based test delivery makes it much easier to access a rich array of data, including start and end time, break periods, time spent on each item/group/section and integrated survey responses. Candidate demographics can also be more easily analysed against results. Constructed responses, such as freeform text and essays, can be collected electronically and easily scored without the challenges associated with hand-written responses.

Unlike paper answer sheets, CBT collects far more information than the candidate’s responses. CBT can capture data regarding the test event (candidate name and ID, start time, end time, date, workstation ID, etc.) as well as item data (item sequence, item ID, correct response, candidate response, time spent on an item, etc.).

This information can be used to make informed decisions about your testing programme.

  • Increasing candidate reach 

Computer-based testing (CBT) gives awarding bodies the opportunity to remove geographical barriers and reach more students. Whereas paper-based exams are traditionally sat in central testing facilities, CBT brings the exciting potential for assessments to be taken in any location, subject to any concerns over security and integrity being answered of course.

E-learning is already reaching people in remote parts of the world and providing flexibility to candidates with personalised learning and mobile teaching options. This gives students the option to learn when and where they like. Unlike face to face teaching, the curriculum content delivered to candidates is the same regardless of location, ensuring students learn using a common methodology.

It’s only a matter of time before e-testing and e-assessment follow suit, as candidates in remote locations seek acknowledgement and accreditation for their learning.

  • Streamlined logistics

Quite often the challenge of paper testing comes not from the actual administration of the event itself but from all the tasks that take place before and after test day. Months of work go into such tasks as securing testing facilities, hiring local-based proctors (invigilators), developing and printing test materials and arranging for secure delivery and storage of the test content. Post-test activities, such as the retrieval, scanning and scoring of test materials, can prove just as time-consuming and labour-intensive. Some of these tasks could be improved on or removed completely in a transition to full e-assessment.

CBT can eliminate, or at least reduce the pressure on, many of these activities. Leveraging technology and the economies of scale made possible through CBT, test sponsors can focus on important activities such as ensuring test validity and providing high-quality service to their constituents.

However, the benefits achieved from computer-based-testing (CBT) depends on how well it is implemented, and how the assessment is transitioned from paper.

Many awarding bodies transitioning from print to digital exams choose to migrate their existing paper exam specification in the first instance, providing the opportunity to later consider how digital could further enhance their testing programme.

Discover how The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), along with the help of RM Results, moved their exams from a paper-based delivery system to a computer-based format without losing the integrity of the assessments by downloading this case study.