Stress, cheating, and time constraints
Online testing is a bumpy process
- Illustration by Kalle Wolters
The switch from paper exams to a working online alternative had to be made so fast. But UG students are relatively happy with the way it’s been going. ‘I’m really grateful my teachers managed to switch over to this new way of testing so quickly’, one student wrote in the UKrant online survey. ‘I think a lot of people would have suffered a worse study delay if they hadn’t.’ Another person wrote to thank the UG for dealing with the situation so well.
259 students filled out the online survey that UKrant published to get an overview of their experience of online exams and alternative assignments. Almost 85 percent of respondents said the testing was sufficient: they are reasonably satisfied to very satisfied. In almost all of the cases, they were talking about online exams. Alternative assignments or papers were hardly used as replacements for exams.
Not everything is perfect, though. In spite of the passing grade, 70 percent of the students who filled out the survey said there were issues while they were taking their exams at home. Ambient noise is the most annoying problem: 43 percent said they were bothered by it. ‘The doorbell rang…’ one respondent complained.
I didn’t feel like I was sitting an exam, which made it hard to focus
It is apparently also hard for students to focus at home. ‘I didn’t feel like I was sitting an exam’, said one respondent. ‘This made it hard to focus. It feels like I have too much freedom.’ Another student was distracted by his cat. ‘Sitting in the Aletta Jacobs hall makes the test real and gets me in the right head space so I can focus. Now there’s a cat that is whining for attention.’
Obviously, the university can’t do anything about delivery drivers ringing the doorbell or loving cats, but 52 percent of respondents also said the online test took too long. ‘All the tests, as well as the alternative assignment I did this block, were too long to complete in the time allotted’, one person wrote.
Robin, who doesn’t want her real name published, had a bad experience with her psychology exam. ‘The exam was on Blackboard, like they always are’, she says. ‘When I started, there was a timeline at the bottom of the screen, indicating I had two hours and five minutes for my exam.’
It was a difficult exam, so she wasn’t making much headway. ‘But the timeline said I had plenty of time to finish. Suddenly, my screen flashed a red error message.’ Her answers weren’t saved. ‘Then I suddenly got locked out of the testing program.’
It turned out the timeline didn’t accurately reflect the time set aside for the test. ‘The timeline was set for two hours and five minutes, when in reality, we only had two hours from when we started.’ The five minutes had been added onto the timeline to accommodate for students starting late.
She thinks this snafu resulted in her missing several questions. ‘I still had a couple of questions to answer, so this will definitely affect my grade.’
Robin wasn’t the only one facing this problem. UKrant columnist Niall complained about it in his column last week. In the end, the exam committee decided to lower the number of points needed for a passing grade by one point; where students first needed 25 out of 36 points for passing grade, they now only needed 24.
How do they expect us to concentrate with everything that’s going on?
Many students are also complaining about the stress brought on by the online tests. ‘The digital tests just add pressure to an already stressful situation. How do they expect us to concentrate under time constraints with everything that’s going on?’ one student wrote. ‘I was panicking, which made it difficult and stressful to finish the test.’
Others feel the whole Covid-19 situation is worrying enough. ‘The whole situation is frightening, please don’t scare us further with these tests.’ ‘It’s just adding stress to the Covid-19 pandemic’, another student wrote.
UG spokesperson Jorien Bakker understands the issues. ‘Unfortunately, the UG has no other alternatives, since all our buildings will be closed until at least May 19.’ She would advise students to find a quiet spot to take their exam and to give their lecturers feedback on the time the tests take. ‘We need the input for the next exam period.’
Then there are the departments’ efforts to prevent cheating. How can they make sure students don’t cheat? 80 percent of students were asked to make a pledge, where they promise to take the test themselves and not to cheat. Some lecturers also did random sampling.
Students don’t have much faith in the prevention methods, though. ‘Cheating is easy and is probably happening on a large scale’, one of them wrote. ‘Students take the exam in the same room, discuss questions, or look things up’, another said.
Last week, it turned out that a group of students had cheated on their statistics I.b and II psychology exams by sharing answers in a WhatsApp group chat. ‘I was in a moral quandary, because I was a part of that group chat’, said one student. He was offline during the test and only later saw what his fellow students had done.
I was in a moral quandary because I was in the group chat
Others are worried that this will negatively affect students who don’t cheat on their exams. ‘There are so many students who cheat, which means they’re getting grades they don’t deserve.’
The UG is aware of the risk of cheating, says Jorien Bakker. ‘Classic multiple-choice exams only test factual knowledge, which means they don’t really work as an online exam that students can do at home.’
The UG has advised the various faculties to use cheat-proof ways of testing, such as essays, but ‘for some exams, it was too complicated to change them to an alternative form of testing on such short notice’.
Bakker emphasises the choices made concerning testing were made with the best intentions. ‘We want to prevent students from suffering any delays. We’re cautious when it comes to extra measures for multiple-choice exams, like online proctoring.’ Proctoring software could constitute a breach of privacy.
The UG is currently evaluating a test they ran using the software. ‘We’ll keep a close eye on any further developments concerning the prevention of cheating and online proctoring, and we’re in contact with other institutes and the VSNU, who are also focusing on this issue. We’re sharing best practices.’
What would be a good solution? Some students feel online testing should be done away with altogether. ‘The UG should replace paper tests with online ones; they should have us do assignments, essays, and presentations’, says one student. ‘Something you can do over the course of several days.’