Using a Physical Testing Center for Exams: Online Econometrics, Day 8

Last summer I complained bitterly about how we implemented exams in my online class. It was a multi-step process that started with me emailing all my students the exam as a PDF. They wrote their answers on paper in front of their webcams while my TA and I watched for signs of foul play. After two hours, they took pictures of their work with their phones and emailed us the results. Overall, it was a perfectly reasonable experience for them.

The critical flaw in my eye was that it would have been be trivial to cheat. They could keep books under the table, chat with friends in another window, or have pre-written notes on their scratch paper. They could even turn off their Internet temporarily and do whatever they wanted while they were disconnected. Given how flaky some students’ Internet connections can be, I wouldn’t have felt right disqualifying students for losing their connection. As I said a year ago, I have no reason to believe any of my students cheated, but when the payoff to cheating is high (e.g., a good grade in a Yale class) and the probability of punishment is low, it eventually leads to an equilibrium where everyone cheats.

This summer we are trying something new, and last Wednesday we had our midterm exam. My four students who are connecting to the class from outside New Haven took their exams at physical testing centers located near them. Kryterion Global Testing Solutions operates a network of over 700 centers in more than 100 countries around the world.

The pre-exam procedure was fairly painless. Each student chose their location and I entered the exam into Kryterion’s somewhat antiquated but functional online system. With a little help, I created a few true/false questions and several seemingly straight-forward questions that required the students to work through several steps to get to the answer. In this case I asked them to type in several intermediate results as well as their final answer to make sure I had the opportunity to give them partial credit.

On exam day each student had to show ID at their center, and while some centers initially had trouble finding the student in their system, everyone was settled in answering questions in about 15 minutes. They could refer to one page of notes and had access to some reference tables and a simple calculator while they took their exam.

All four students said they did their work on paper and it was time-consuming to type their answers into the computer. At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised with my ability to figure out what they were doing when I graded their exams.

Overall, I liked the process better than last year’s, but it’s not perfect. Ideally, they would take a paper and pencil test at the center and scan it when they finished. Then their test-taking experience would be identical to my New Haven students who took the exam this way in a room on campus. Kryterion doesn’t support paper and pencil now, but I’m hoping they do eventually or that we can find a good network of centers that will. In the meantime, I have a final exam to give in two weeks. The only change I’m planning now is to give the remote students some extra time.