Online education programmes run by governments, universities, professional institutes and commercial organisations continue to grow in popularity. As a result, there is an increasing demand for online proctored testing that demonstrates security, integrity and a consistent testing experience to candidates, wherever they are dispersed geographically.

Online proctored testing has many benefits. It allows candidates to sit for tests remotely. They can be in their own home, office, university; in fact anywhere worldwide, providing they have access to an internet connection and a suitable device. Online testing eliminates the need to go through the administrative and logistical hassle of booking a testing slot in a physical test centre and then travelling to the centre, which is frequently in another city or even a different country.  As a result, online proctored testing is far more convenient to candidates and more efficient and cost-effective to the organisation sponsoring the test.

It is not unknown for organisations to have to fly candidates to another country, or indeed another continent to take examinations in test centres in selected major cities. The requirement to travel, often involving considerable distance and significant cost, denies many candidates the opportunity to achieve certification, the chance to gain credentials enabling them to climb the career ladder and get the job they want. Online proctoring allows candidates to take tests wherever they are. The convenience and geographical reach of online proctored testing, together with its efficiency and cost effectiveness, is driving its adoption globally.

Security concerns addressed

The security of online proctored testing, ensuring the person taking the test remotely is who they say they are and ensuring there are effective safeguards against cheating, is a key concern for organisations considering the adoption of online proctored testing for the first time. There is a constant challenge to detect those candidates who attempt to cheat, often using increasingly sophisticated methods. Test delivery organisations are continually refining and improving their security protocols across all testing delivery methodologies, including online proctored testing. It is fair to say that levels of test security that can be achieved for online proctored testing through the effective use of new technologies is now very close to the levels of security achieved within traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ test centres.

Online proctoring is not yet a fully mature test delivery methodology; however, it is swiftly gaining traction in the marketplace internationally. There are a number of smaller industry players that specialise in online proctoring, often offering relatively basic solutions for organisations sponsoring tests, where they might choose just to have the test recorded rather than proctored by a human, and only to review a sample of recordings to spot-check evidence of cheating. This option is suitable for lower stakes testing, such as university examinations, where students take multiple exams throughout the academic year, or foundation-level professional tests where pass rates tend to be higher.

More sophisticated online proctoring offers live, real-time proctoring for candidates taking exams on their own computer in the location of their choice. A human proctor observes the candidate via webcam and speaks via the computer’s microphone. Positive identity verification is a key requirement for all online-proctored exams and may include biometric authentication. ID evidence is captured via webcam and stored securely as a part of the candidate’s file.

Online proctoring technology can create a fully secure desktop environment, by locking down the candidate’s computer and by blocking all programmes that could compromise test integrity, such as internet browsers. Sophisticated technology also monitors suspicious activity, such as unusual keystroke patterns, head and eye movement or background noise in the test environment, potentially indicating that there could be someone else in the room.

Statistical analysis of completed online tests can also expose anomalies that could indicate cheating. If someone completes a test in a very short time, and fails badly, that could indicate that the candidate may have attempted to memorise answers to the questions, which have been illegally published in the public domain.

A hybrid approach to testing

Online proctoring is just one way of delivering tests, and many organisations will find that a hybrid approach to implementing this technology will work well alongside their existing testing schemes. For example, traditional paper-based tests, carried out in physical test centres, may well work in tandem with online proctored tests. A professional institute with a defined career path, such as accountants progressing from junior accountant to senior partner, could use online proctoring at foundation and intermediate levels, and then choose to use a traditional test centre for the advanced level.

Organisations sponsoring tests will need to consider not only security relating to cheating attempts, but also safeguarding the intellectual property and brand value of their examinations. A great deal of time and financial investment goes into writing question items, resulting in question banks, so careful management of these assets is important. Thus, an assessment of the risk of cheating versus the value of the exam will inform the decision as to whether online proctoring is required in order to deliver a fair, equitable and consistent opportunity for candidates to demonstrate what they are truly capable of.