More examinations to be administered on electronic devices: Ong Ye Kung

Wan Ting Koh
Singapore’s Parliament. (Yahoo Singapore file photo)

Students can expect more examinations to be administered on electronic devices in due course, said Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Monday (11 February).

Currently, computer-based writing examinations have been introduced on a trial basis for several subjects, such as mother tongue languages and literature, Ong said. For a start, oral exams conducted electronically will be implemented for the GCE N level English in 2019 and O level English in 2020.

Candidates who had taken electronic exams (e-exams) found them to be “more engaging and authentic” based on feedback received by the Ministry of Education (MOE), Ong said.

“In time to come…more written exams (will be) administered onscreen as well. Students can more readily cut and paste, edit their essays, move paragraphs around. They can be asked to respond to an email, write a blog or social media post,” he said.

“All these better reflect real-life situations that students will go through later in life.”

Ong was responding to questions by five Members of Parliament (MPs) on whether MOE plans to mark GCE exam scripts electronically or in Singapore following two incidents of physical GCE exam scripts that were lost in the UK in the past two years.

In November last year, the Paper 2 Additional Mathematics scripts of 32 students were lost after a Cambridge Assessment examiner misplaced a bag containing the scripts during a train journey in the UK.

In 2017, a parcel containing A level Chemistry answer scripts from 238 students was stolen from a locked courier van that was on its way to an examiner in the UK.

In response to MPs who called for written scripts to be marked locally, Ong said that a very substantial amount of “highly qualified resources” would be needed to do so. Teachers would also have to work within a tight timeline between the conclusion of exams and the release of results, he added.

About 1.1 million answer scripts from the GCE examinations are produced annually in Singapore, with 800,000 of them marked by Cambridge Assessment, according to Ong. Cambridge Assessment has 2,200 professors and experienced educators from higher institutions to mark the scripts.

Considering the logistical requirements involved, Ong said it is still worthwhile to maintain MOE’s collaboration with Cambridge Assessment.

The practical implementation of e-exams is still a long way to go, according to Ong.

“We need to take into account the readiness of schools and students… We should not inadvertently disadvantage students who may not be exposed to computers as much as others,” he said. 

The minister also spoke about plans to mark exam scripts onscreen or the marking of digitally scanned copies of physical scripts.

Such a mode of marking would allow scores to be aggregated much faster as there is no need to handle large numbers of physical scripts.

“We can readily generate data to study how students perform in papers… which helps us improve instructions and teaching,” Ong said.

The move towards onscreen marking has been underway in phases since 2015, said Ong. For instance, onscreen marking was applied to the GCE N level papers in 2017 and extended to some GCE O level exams last year.

About 65 per cent of exam scripts are marked onscreen currently, and written scripts of almost all GCE levels will be marked onscreen by the end of this year, Ong said.

Some locally-developed exam papers, such as for mother tongue languages, will be marked onscreen, from 2020.

But papers of certain subjects are unsuitable to be marked electronically, such as science practical exam scripts due to possible chemical contamination, and art exam scripts.

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