Computer-based exams and other thoughts.

How many times have you heard someone at work talk about “the good old days” and how “exams were harder in my day”. Whether it’s GCSEs, A levels or accountancy exams, this has been an ongoing conversation for many years.

The latest water-cooler topic is computer-based exams (CBEs) and how they compare to the “traditional” handwritten papers. If you are studying towards the CIMA, ACCA or ICAEW exams, for example, at least some of your exams will have to be taken on a computer, with “objective test questions” and multiple-choice becoming commonplace.

First Intuition London Computer Based Exam Room

Paper-based woes

Let’s look at the facts – no system of examination is perfect. The traditional paper-based can test different areas of the syllabus, often in rotation, so that over a year, most core topics are examined and some aren’t. This means that you can “get lucky” or unlucky if a topic that you are good or bad at appears or doesn’t appear in a particular paper.

CBE pros

With CBEs, more of the syllabus can be tested so that “question-spotting” becomes irrelevant and any weak areas that a student has are exposed.

One question can test several different rules. You have to know your stuff and then think, really think, about what you have to do to solve the problem. Get one aspect of a question wrong and all the marks go down the plughole.

How are today’s exam candidates affected?

These days you have to know your stuff, across a much wider range of topics, and be able to apply your knowledge to some very specific situations. Anything less than precise, detailed, knowledge will result in no marks being scored.

In my view at least, this is a much tougher ask than in the past.

CIMA exams

In the CIMA case study exams, now examined throughout the qualification rather than just at the end, candidates are receiving a very good general business education right from the outset, and developing communication and judgement skills to complement this education. I have been very impressed with some of the new breed of candidates who make it through to the strategic case.

Overall then a win win for CIMA students and their employers. Precise, targeted, knowledge orientated multiple choice exams, that can be taken on demand, and in depth investigations into three different industries across the qualification.

ACCA exams

Now, and in the interests of remaining reasonably neutral, I got a huge kick out of teaching the ACCA paper F6 , taxation, for the December sitting. It is a mix of multiple choice, short form scenario based questions and longer questions. In my view the new format is a big improvement on the old approach in that a broader range of topics can be examined in any one exam.

ICAEW exams

I am also looking forward to the challenge of preparing students for the new ICAEW computer based exams. The ICAEW have done a great job with their approach to examining accounting on the computer and I am sure they will get my other papers right!

Looking to the future

It is fantastic to see how the professional body exam boards are evolving to meet the needs of today’s organisations.

The future looks very exciting for tutors and students alike. I can’t wait.

Mike Pennington

Mike is Chairman of First Intuition Ltd, PQ Magazine’s College of the Year in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016.



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