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Grades at the touch of a button

New guidelines have been sent to schools on e-assessment - the use of computers and internet technology to assess pupils for national examinations.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority provides a plethora of advice on the best way to do this and says a major benefit is the ability to collate results and instantly analyse responses to questions. E-assessment also increases the time available for teaching, since most questions are automatically marked by the system.

But the SQA warns that not all subjects are suitable for e-assessment. And objective questions, such as multiple choice, may not always be appropriate. "They are effective in assessing factual recall, but it is harder to use them to assess higher order learning skills such as creativity, communication skills or synthesis. They cannot elicit qualitative or reflective responses."

The guidelines also note that "the downside of computer marking is that sometimes the assessment engine can be less accommodating than human markers.

"An example of this is when a candidate enters text; a computer might mark an answer wrong where a human marker would consider the answer to be correct or partially correct."

Schools are also given advice on security and technical issues.

While the SQA is careful not to drive forward e-assessment too quickly, it is clear this is how it sees the future.

"In a few years' time, we won't be sending out 140,000 certificates by post," Anton Colella, the authority's chief executive, believes. "We will simply tell people the results are available and they will log on to get them."

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