School trials iPad exam

The traditional pen-and-paper school test could become a thing of the past after a leading exam board successfully trialled the use of iPads for pupils sitting a mock GCSE.

Computers have until now been banned during exams but experts have warned that the practice of using written test papers “cannot go on”.

While the next generation will have grown up using information technology, digital formats would also save money by reducing the need to print reams of booklets and paperwork.

A group of Year 11 pupils became the first to sit a IGCSE exam using portable computers including iPads and Kindles last month.

University of Cambridge International Examinations gave the students, from Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire, the devices to view a mock biology paper.

Robert Campbell, the principal, said the class was “cautiously optimistic” about the trial and had been impressed with the way they could zoom in on diagrams and turn the pages.

“We thought it sounded exciting and different,” he told the Times Education Supplement.

“The potential to do this has been around for a few years; examiners already mark electronically. Why shouldn’t they look at doing the same this end?

“Exam boards have to provide high quality printed materials, including supplementary booklets, so it could save them a lot of money, as well as having real benefits for students.”

A CIE spokesman said the trial was the only one to have taken place so far and that there were no current plans to use computers for “live exams”.

Problems that still need to be ironed out include the time it takes to log in and boot up laptops and the way iPad screens lock the user out if not touched for several minutes.

Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, last year called for all school exams to be taken on computers.

She said GCSEs and A-levels were in danger of becoming “invalid” because most children now learnt and researched their subjects online.

Critics have warned that computers could increase cheating, downgrade the art of handwriting, and undermine rigour in education.

Students from deprived areas who do not have personal access to a computer could also be at a disadvantage.

Paul Champion

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Twitter: @blogapprentice
Skype: paulchampion31

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