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Online Vs. On Paper Exams

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Information Systems

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.927.1 - 15.927.19



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Paper Authors


Edward Gehringer North Carolina State University

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Ed Gehringer,, is Associate Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering at North Carolina State University. His main research area is collaborative learning technology. He received his Ph.D. degree from Purdue University, and taught at Carnegie Mellon University, and Monash University in Australia.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Online vs. On-Paper Exams


As information and education continue to migrate to an online format, on-paper examinations are becoming an anachronism. Paper exams ask students to work in an environment that feels artificial—without the information infrastructure that they depend on in their other classwork, and that they expect to use on the job after they graduate. This paper compares a particular form of online exams, the “open-book open-Web” exam with exams taken on paper. The choice of format has a myriad of implications, most of which are not apparent at a glance. This paper considers several categories of differences, including coverage of material, administering the exam, challenges of grading, how to discourage cheating, and the tradeoff between difficulties associated with handwriting and difficulties with coding the exam. It is based on the results of two surveys, one of students who took open-book open-Web exams, and one of instructors who administered online exams.

1. Introduction

In today’s world, tests and exams are given in an environment that is increasingly artificial. Most technical work is done with computers. Few people would attempt to write a computer program, analyze forces on a building, or even write a piece of prose, without the aid of a computer. But that’s just the kind of environment we place our students in when they take an exam. All of the leading learning-management systems and textbook publishers have online testing modules that can be used to deliver quizzes or exams. However, few instructors have completely done away with paper exams. Online exams preclude certain types of questions (e.g., recall), while facilitating others (questions based on looking up information and applying it). There is more to online exams than meets the eye. Usually, some questions are automatically graded. But there are many ways of phrasing a correct answer. It is much more difficult than it would appear to make sure that all legitimate answers are accepted. Usually, manual regarding is needed. In most systems, this requires navigating to every page of every student’s exam. There are major differences in administering an online exam. For example, it’s easy to time the test precisely, so that each student gets the same amount of time. But care is required to make sure that some students don’t gain access to the answers when they finish early, and then e-mail them to those who are still working on the exam. This paper covers online exams in general, but focuses on a particular kind of online exam, the “open-book open-Web” (OBOW) exam. This has major implications for academic integrity. An online exam does away with a lot of opportunity for cheating (the kind of cheating that involves consulting unapproved materials or devices), but raises new possibilities, such as electronic communication between students during the exam. In later

Proceedings of the 2010 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition 1 Copyright ∏ 2010, American Society for Engineering Education

Gehringer, E. (2010, June), Online Vs. On Paper Exams Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16349

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