Testing The Line


Abode2 investigates the future of exams process as AQA launches a major pilot of up to 2,500 secondary school students, trialling online GCSE examinations

This year, a selection of students will sit their final year exams solely on screen, under a new pilot scheme run by the UK largest exam board, AQA, marking a huge step towards online exams.

Although the largest exam board, AQA are not the first to trial on-screen GCSE exams, and some one nation wide exam board has already anouced preparation to make all exam available on screen by 2025.

Under the AQA trial, up to 2,500 secondary school students from between 60 and 100 schools will trial online GCSE exams early this year. They will also take part in adaptive assessments where the difficulty adjusts as students move through the test.

The trials, reported to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, will provide evidence on how on-screen tests could work in future. Colin Hughes, AQA’s chief executive, said “a move to digital assessment was only a matter of time”, with the pandemic highlighting the need for “resilience in the system”.

His comments echo Ofqual chief regulator Jo Saxton, who last year commented: “it’s not a question of if, it’s where might we involve it more, and when”. The government appears to be supportive of the trials. Speaking to the BBC’s World at One, Hughes said barriers include a school’s location, the equipment they have and connectivity – all issues thrown up during the pandemic.

A report by Ofqual in 2020 found that large-scale standardised tests could not be moved online in the immediate future. The review found inconsistencies in school IT provision and unreliable internet connections.

The AQA trial will use a range of school sizes and types and their IT infrastructure will be selected. The students taking part in the trial will complete the GCSE part of the pilot, with 45-minute tests in English, maths and two in science. AQA wants to keep the assessment burden low for students. It will conduct a full programme of research to understand schools’ experiences.

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