Award body City amp; Guilds is expanding the use of its "global online learning assessment" system, which is already used in around 70 colleges and by 18 other training providers. It hopes to have more than 1,000 colleges and learning providers online within the next six months.
Geraldine Kenney-Wallace, of City amp; Guilds, said: "By making testing quicker, easier and more accessible, online assessment systems can bring huge benefits to both training centres and students."
In many cases, students get the results of their tests the moment they have finished. The system allows tests to be taken at the convenience of the student or the course provider and removes the bureaucratic delays and mishaps which have affected conventional examination marking.
By early next year, it is planned to provide online assessment for a range of courses including basic and key skills, access to English language teaching, health and social care.
Information technology tutor Steve Catley, who works at a Colchester outreach centre of Otley College, estimates it saves his team two hours a week in marking time. They use it for a multiple-choice exam as part of a City amp; Guilds basic IT skills qualification. Students can be given their scores as soon as they have finished the test. Previously they had to wait up to a week before knowing whether or not they had passed.
The awarding body keeps a database of questions from which those on the online test are drawn. This creates a unique combination of questions, making it easier for students on the same course to sit the exam on different days or different times without being able to cheat.
Mr Catley said: "Before it was introduced we couldn't see the point of doing it this way rather than sending the questions on paper. But it is much quicker.
"The provisional results are instant and they aren't going to be different from the final results unless we've contacted City amp; Guilds to say something went wrong during the exam."