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Two pints and a maths test please

People could soon pop along to their local pub to take an exam with their pint as new technology makes computerised testing more common, the head of England's exam watchdog said this week.

Those who hated traditional pen and paper exams might even grow to like them if "doing a test feels more like playing a video game", said Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Dr Boston, a big fan of so-called "e-assessment", promised that the regulator would try to cut the red tape involved in on-line testing.

"The days of families sitting around playing Scrabble and Monopoly are being replaced by sibling rivalry over who will be first to reach the next level of a computer game."

E-assessment could eventually lead to "profound changes" in what children studied at school and was already changing job-related courses, Dr Boston told a conference in London.

He highlighted an on-line textile-making test, administered by City and Guilds, which meant an examiner in one country could study in minute detail a piece of cloth woven by a student on the other side of the world via a camera hooked up to a computer.

"E-assessment makes testing accessible physically by being potentially on-line, on-demand.

"This is the most obvious benefit. No need for scheduled exam dates and venues, just turn up at a Learndirect centre, a library, or even a pub, with the relevant facilities.

"Access the assessment on-line and receive immediate results."

He acknowledged that the technology would have to guard against cheating and make sure the person who took the exam was the one who was supposed to be undergoing the test.

"With sophisticated recognition techniques, e-assessment could be reliably undertaken in a candidate's own home, assuming acceptable levels of reliability that the candidate really is who they say they are have been established.

"Second, e-assessment makes assessment more accessible by being potentially more acceptable and less threatening to learners.

"When doing a test feels more like playing a video game, a whole generation of exam-allergic learners may willingly seek to have their achievements and learning recognised formally," he said.

Computerised testing was a third alternative to physically assessing people's skills or the pen and paper exam, Dr Boston said.

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