Are you getting the most out of your digital assessment?

9th March 2023

Richard Little explores why providers should be asking tougher questions in their quest to achieve top marks for digital assessments.

With the continued drive to digital exams, organisations around the world are progressing at pace to adapt and meet the rising demand. It’s a change which demands expertise and the right partner to really embed digital assessments.

In the first of a series of articles examining this issue, Civica’s Product Strategy Director for Education, Richard Little, argues for a structured approach and urges organisations to ask tough questions of their digital assessment software providers.

A better way to test

The shift from paper to digital exams and assessments is gathering pace. Professional bodies ranging from larger chartered institutes through to end point assessments for vocational courses are leading examples. This move is not limited to professional assessments: the pandemic was a spur for digitisation in exams for school and college students. It’s an approach that is expanding further, with countries including Singapore and New Zealand making great progress. The New South Wales Education Standards Authority, for example, has transformed K-12 exams in Australia with reliable and accurate digital marking.

It’s not hard to see why this change has such momentum behind it. Digital tests can be taken and marked anywhere, at any time. For something like a standard commercial language test, such as those run by the British Council, the convenience for employers, examiners and prospective employees is unbeatable. Digital assessments can be more secure and easier to administer, as they reduce the risk, costs and hassle of physical logistics.

Then, of course, there’s the potential to transform exams and testing. Why make accountants scribble numbers on a paper grid when they could prove their spreadsheet smarts in a digital test? Digital delivery aligns assessments with the screen-and-keyboard reality of most professional lives. It can also enable more effective, ‘adaptive’ tests, which adjust the question set to match candidates’ abilities during an assessment, creating a more meaningful result and a better candidate experience.

Finally, of course, digital testing reflects the ways that students work today. Few school students are keen on the idea of writing longhand for two hours – and candidates for professional tests may simply look for another assessor if digital tests aren’t offered.

Richard Little

Product Strategy Director – Education,


Many assessment providers have made a great start on their digital journeys. However, there are many others who have hit a block and are being held back from really accelerating forward.

Making digital assessments work

Despite the momentum for change, digital assessment is still an immature space. It’s rare to get it right in a single step – and that’s OK. In our experience, there are four key stages to making your digital assessments journey work:

1. Pilot the way

The journey to unlocking the full potential of digital assessments can take time but start yours with a simple proof of concept. Choose a single test or exam and run it with small cohort of candidates. This allows you to check for any bumps in the process, learn and improve.

2. Embed your learnings

After your successful pilot, you can start to introduce more complex test capabilities such as spreadsheets or graphs and look at scaling up for larger cohorts and more in-depth assessments.

3. Accelerate for better experiences

This is where you can really exploit the sophistication of digital assessment, transforming tests with new question types, adaptive capabilities, or the ability to offer remote invigilation. New technologies such as machine learning, AI and augmented reality have the potential to innovate and improve assessments, today and in the future.

4. Partner for success

You don’t need to develop in-house technical expertise to deliver your digital programme. Keep your focus on what you and your teams are good at – delivering a first-class experience for your customers. There are several platforms and suppliers in the market, but it’s important to choose wisely. To help, quiz your provider on some key areas:

  • Track record - Many give a great sales pitch, but when it comes to implementing, they fall over. Get them to show you more and talk to their customers to get honest views.
  • User experience - Exams and assessments are stressful: you don’t want to add to that by having a system that is frustrating or difficult to use. Ensure the platform you select can improve their experience.
  • Value add - Look to see what else your partner brings to the table. Can they help you explore new innovations and technologies and better prepare for the future? This is a long-term plan, so make sure they can help with both today and tomorrow.

Many assessment providers have made a great start on their digital journeys. For example, the Western Australia School Curriculum and Standards Authority improved the assessments standard for over 17,000 students, while making it easier for markers to engage across a vast landscape. However, there are many others who have hit a block and are being held back from really accelerating forward. The good news is that it’s your journey and you are in in control. You don’t have to sit in silence and look in envy at your peers. If your current platform is holding you back, look to make a change. Your customers are moving forward and demanding a better experience. Maybe it’s time you demanded better too.

Richard Little is Product Strategy Director for Education at Civica. He has worked in education technology for over 20 years, specialising in digital assessment for UK and international customers across schools, English language testing and professional awarding organisations.

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