the e-Assessment Association

Online GCSE tests piloted by major exam board

Online GCSE tests piloted by major exam board

AQA to pilot smart assessment technology that adjusts the difficulty of questions in response to students’ answers

Original article by Matilda Martin appeared on

Thousands of students will be taking online tests in GCSE English, maths and science this year as part of a major new pilot launched by the AQA exam board.

Up to 2,500 students from 100 schools and colleges will take part in the online GCSE pilots, in addition to their exams, which are expected to go ahead this summer.

The pilot will include adaptive “smart” assessments that adjust in difficulty in response to a student’s progression in the test.

These online trials will not replace the actual GCSE and A-level exams that students are set to take this year, which they will sit in the current pen and paper format.

AQA also said it was carrying out a full programme of research on its trials to inform the exams regulator and the wider industry to “help make digital assessment a reality”.

Could online GCSE exams soon be a reality?

This research will involve working with teachers and students involved in the pilot so that AQA can understand their experience.

The pilots will involve one 45-minute test for maths, one for English and two for science.

AQA said it aimed “to keep the assessment burden low”.

Digital assessment ‘only a matter of time’

Colin Hughes, chief executive of AQA, said that it was “only a matter of time” before the exams system moved to digital assessment and that the exam board “strongly believe there are real benefits, for learners and teachers”.

“Teachers and students are emerging from the pandemic having learned a huge amount about online learning, and how it can be best delivered”, he said.

Mr Hughes added that digital assessment can “help better prepare students for future learning and work settings”, and “deliver a more personalised experience”.

He said online assessments could even improve fairness and provide more data on learning and achievement.

“Moreover, the pandemic has highlighted the need for resilience in the system which digital can also help provide,” he added.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today, Mr Hughes said: “We’re emerging from the pandemic with a pretty good understanding that actually things might have been easier in some respects if we’d had at least the option of doing some parts of examinations online.”

Mr Hughes added that he thought there was a “growing feeling” amongst teachers that online examinations make sense.

Adaptive testing

When asked about the adaptive element of the online tests, Mr Hughes said it would be “a version of assessment or testing which can respond to the pace and the ability the student demonstrates in their answers”.

This “smart” testing would mean students who move through questions easily would be set tougher tasks throughout the exam, while those who are doing less well would not be pushed towards more difficult questions.

Mr Hughes said this technology could be used to move away from students having to opt to take a particular level of exam paper in advance – such as a foundation or higher paper at maths GCSE.

But he said there was a question over whether this approach could be used in the “high-stakes” GCSE and A-level exams.

Earlier this year, Tes reported how AQA, Pearson and OCR were conducting research to move towards online exams.

There are concerns that disruption to learning could continue this term due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

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