Electronic exams save teachers’ time — and nature

108 000
exams in 2018
Finnish universities

EXAM provides flexibility in arranging exams and frees teachers from trying to decipher unclear handwriting. The savings in paper are significant as well, as more than 100,000 electronic exams are already completed in EXAM each year. The option for exam visits, which was introduced this fall, is likely to increase the growth speed even further.

“These days, what kind of working-life skill is handwriting? This is how I respond to the question of whether an educational institute should implement electronic exams,” says Sanna Sintonen, Senior Advisor at Education Development Services at Tampere University of Applied Sciences, and Chair of the EXAM-consortium.

Already, 27 Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences have decided to digitalize the assessment of competence and are now using the EXAM software. The system development is administered by the EXAM-consortium of Finnish Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences. Valamis is the main developer of the system.

The Finnish CSC – IT Centre for Science is the system customer in the interface between Valamis and institutes of higher education, offering it as an operational service. The user organizations can, of course, be responsible for the implementation and maintenance themselves as well.

“All Finnish institutes of higher education are dealing with the same problems, including in the area of demonstrating one’s electronic competence. The benefit of the EXAM-consortium is that it is not necessary to carry out development work separately from others,” says Venla Virtakoivu, Specialist and Project Manager of the Assessment of Digital Competence and Learning project at Aalto University.

The first version of EXAM was completed in 2014. Institutes of higher education felt that the electronic exam systems of the time were technologically outdated, and thus started creating their own system together with Valamis (Arcusys at the time) and CSC.

In 2018, 108,000 exams were completed in EXAM, and the number is growing quickly. For example, Aalto University’s goal is to double the number of electronic exams from year to year.

Benefits for students and teachers

EXAM makes the entire exam process electronic. This offers numerous benefits for both teachers and students.

Traditional exams in classrooms are labor-intensive—before, during and after. The classroom and supervisors must be reserved well in advance, for each time the exam is completed. Printing exam papers and attachments can be a massive hassle. Completed tests might get lost, and some of the handwriting is always illegible.

A classroom exam tied to a specific time requires a lot from the students as well. There are a limited number of exam books, and it might be difficult to get hold of one. What if the student is sick, at work, or in another town at the time of the exam?

Making the process electronic brings flexibility and frees resources for other things.

“Teachers can create and assess the exam anywhere. They are no longer dependent on the answer papers,” says Henna Toivola, Specialist at University and Education Services at the University of Vaasa.

Results can be recorded directly in the administration system with the help of EXAM’s application interface.

“Students send us a lot of positive feedback. In addition to the flexibility enabled by the system, students simply are happy with the fact that they can write the answers on a computer,” Sanna Sintonen says.

Competitive advantage from electronic exams

Students who are already used to a digital matriculation examination may find it weird that they have to go back to pen and paper as they start their studies in a university. The opportunity to display one’s competence electronically may even attract students to a specific school.

“I believe that all exams at Aalto University in which the responses are in the form of essays, multiple-choice questions and gap fillers could be transferred directly to EXAM,” Venla Virtakoivu says.

When completing tests in EXAM, students can book a suitable exam time electronically. EXAM classrooms are monitored by cameras, so the examinee’s identity can be confirmed. The system can also be utilized for other purposes than just exams. For example, midterm assignments that the student is expected to carry out independently, using their own competence, can be managed seamlessly with EXAM.

“EXAM is an alternative for testing the students’ initial level in, for example, language studies. Exams do not always need to be organized at the end of the course,” Henna Toivola points out.

Starting in fall 2019, EXAM is offering even more options than before. Exam visits (completing an exam at the premises of another university) are now possible. Currently, these are implemented at seven campuses of six institutes of higher education, and that number is growing fast.

Toward digital mass exams and AI assessment

EXAM is constantly developing based on the needs of its users.

“We are extremely satisfied with Valamis as the systems supplier. Our partnership has continued for a long time, as Valamis is well acquainted with the areas of studying and learning and applies modern technology in its software development.”
- Marjut Anderson, Project Manager at CSC

Requests for further development include the possibility to utilize students’ own computers for EXAM. This way, mass exams could be realized regardless of the number of EXAM computers the institute of higher education has.

An inquiry into such a classroom exam is already ongoing as part of the DigiCampus key project, funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. The same development project also includes a variety of subprojects requested by users, such as learning analytics and AI-supported assessment of exams.

Despite their flaws, pen and paper are handy tools in outlining mathematical notations. This means that the digitalization of mathematical modes of presentation is progressing somewhat slower than for modes of presentation that are easier to convert into digital format. One of EXAM-consortium’s working groups is currently working on integrating tools that support mathematical notations into the exam system.

Electronic exam system EXAM

  • Currently includes 27 Finnish universities. The first version was implemented in 2014.
  • 108,000 exams were completed in EXAM in 2018.
  • Exam visits became possible in fall 2019. An up-to-date list of institutes of higher education where exam visits are possible is available at https://e-exam.fi/exam-tenttivierailu.

Editor: Kari Ahokas