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Computer games-type testing logs on

The hushed exam hall with rows of frantically scribbling candidates could become a thing of the past if a new form of examination takes off.

Scottish pupils will instead show their competence in a subject this summer by playing computer games. The trial project will involve vocational courses in health and retail. Candidates will control a virtual character and enter a simulated workplace, where they will be set tasks they would be expected to carry out in the real world.

This month, the Scottish Qualifications Authority's e-assessment and learning team, having received an award from the European Social Fund, will try out draft materials with potential contenders. Pupils at St Margaret's Academy and Inveralmond High, in Livingston, will be among the first to tackle the new form of assessment.

The SQA said that all levels of exams could eventually involve some form of virtual assessment. Exams were about pupils communicating what they had learned, and using computers was the natural way for young people to show their knowledge.

Moreover, computer assessment allowed candidates to respond to real-life situations in a way that conventional exams did not allow.

Those studying for health qualifications will tour a hospital where they will interact with members of staff and be asked to spot and deal with health hazards, such as a wet floor or used needles. Retail candidates will be asked by customers in a virtual shopping centre for details of products, and will have to recommend the best buys.

Games-based assessment will be available for Skills for Work courses in retail and health from August.

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