Balancing Security with Test-Taker Experience

Today’s professional organizations increasingly rely on online testing to assess and certify knowledge. To ensure exam integrity and good standing of your organization within your industry, it’s important to protect your exam content from cheating, stealing, and other nefarious activities. 

Ensuring secure exams is critical; but it’s equally important to balance your security measures with the experience of your test-takers. Delivering a burdensome exam is test-takers and can result in lower scores and decreased engagement in your association.

In this blog, we’ll talk through some must-have security features for professional associations offering online tests, and how to balance the security of your exams with a positive test-taker experience.

Exam Security Must-Haves

Professional associations must have a way to securely administer an exam. This is especially true today, with broad public expectations of remote or hybrid learning and testing options.

Threats to test security vary widely by organization and by exam. Exam security policies should always be customized to suit a specific testing program. Consider these common security threats for online testing when making your decision:

  • Proxy testing - also known as imposter testing, is when someone other than the approved exam candidate takes an exam.
  • Test item harvesting - refers to the stealing of exam content by a test-taker. This can be extremely detrimental to a professional organization, as item harvesting weakens the rigor and reputation of the association or group administering the exam, and can undercut the value of your credential.
  • Collusion - is when a test-taker receives unauthorized help with their exam.

The Best Approach to Exam Security

Administering a secure exam while delivering a good experience for the test taker is an essential feat of balance. The tester should not see your security measures as a barrier or obstacle, but rather an enhancement that boosts the rigor and trustworthiness of your program. 

Consider these as must-have features for your organization's online exams that you need to balance against a good test-taker experience:

  • ID verification - online exams should always include an easy, secure mechanism to verify a test-taker’s identity. Identification verification technology must be reliable and easy to use for test-takers.
  • Secure browser - for web-based exams, a locked-down, secure browser is best. Secure browsers restrict a test-taker’s ability to take screenshots, use copy/paste functionality, print during exams, and more. Having a secure browser deters cheating, collusion, and item harvesting.
  • Recording streams for audio, video, and screen capture - during the exam, proctoring software can capture various test-taker streams, including audio, video, and screen capture during the exam.
  • AI-based audit flag detection - if suspicious behavior occurs during an online exam, it’s important that you have technology in place to notice and flag it. AI-based online proctoring technology can be programmed to flag specific behaviors – such as speaking to another person in the room – that can then be reviewed by human auditors and turned over to the exam administrator.

Want to learn more about creating secure exams? Download the test security plan checklist.

How to Ensure a Great Test-Taker Experience

As with anything digital, user experience is key. Taking exams is often a stressful process for test-takers. A thoughtful online exam process includes considerations for how to make testing more convenient for your members. Pair the below features with the exam security measures outlined above to strike the correct balance of security and UX.

Easy-to-Use Technology 

  • The online proctoring component of your exam process should be completely seamless. Today’s best-in-class online proctoring solutions integrate easily into major test engines or work perfectly as a standalone solution. 
  • Preferred online proctoring technology is extremely user-friendly and noninvasive.
  • If testers experience difficulty during an exam and need help – make it fast and easy for them to get the issue resolved.
  • Look for technologies that specifically limit the amount of information accessed on a test-taker’s machine.

On-Demand Test-Taker Support

  • With professional and career outcomes on the line, customer support for online exams is absolutely critical for a good test-taker experience. Make sure your test takers have access to support whenever they might need it, wherever they are – this means outside of standard business hours and especially during an exam.
  • The best support forms are chat, email, or remote help from your online proctoring partner.
  • Excellent customer support reduces test-taker anxiety 
  • Ensure that the online proctoring platform you use comes with free, white-glove support that extends to university administrators, professors, faculty, staff, librarians, and students alike. 
  • Make sure all inquiries are addressed in two minutes or less. The last thing you want is a test taker waiting on customer support in order to be able to finish their exam.

The Benefits of Fully Automated or Hybrid Proctoring

The leading certification and accreditation bodies today leverage fully automated proctoring or a hybrid solution, which includes both in-person and online exam capabilities. As organizations and workers continue to live their lives online, 100% in-person exams will become a thing of the past.

Fully automated proctoring is a software-only identity verification and exam recording solution. Fully automated proctoring systems send streams of data to a secure cloud for processing and review to identify any instances of suspicious behavior. This means that there is no need for test takers to be watched as they take an examination. For test takers, this is hugely advantageous. The stress or discomfort of having another person monitor their behavior during an exam is too much for many test takers to deal with comfortably. 

A fully automated proctoring solution gives your test takers peace of mind as well as increased flexibility with regard to when and where they can take their exams.

Respecting Student / Test Taker Privacy

Paramount to any organization administering exams online is student and test taker privacy. Institutions and students alike need to be ensured all relevant data is protected and secure. 

Balancing the privacy of test takers in an online environment while relying on technology to ensure exam security and integrity has its considerations. Verifying the identities of test-takers via machine facial feature detection is the standard for online exams right now. But your organization needs to understand the responsibility for stewarding sensitive personal data. As biometric privacy laws rapidly evolve, your online proctoring solution should allow you to disable the facial detection features as needed to ensure compliance. Choose an online proctoring provider that offers an automated review element while allowing you to adjust the amount of human review required. Additionally, your online proctoring vendor should be able to quickly and appropriately handle data purging requests. 

Save the Judgment for Humans 

Exam proctoring can be fully automated to create a highly efficient testing environment. But when it comes to adjudicating a case of possible cheating, a careful review by a real person is almost always the best way forward.  Online proctoring technology is great for monitoring, recording, and documenting an examination. When an exam session gets flagged for suspicious activity, it’s best not to assume anything until you’ve taken the time to review the incident. 

Test takers quickly come to see the value in online proctoring, but they’ll appreciate that a human ultimately retains the authority to review any incident that is flagged by an online proctoring system. You don’t want an AI making critical decisions that have serious consequences in people’s lives, all without human oversight. This oversight allows you to take situations in the proper context and truly understand the circumstances surrounding the potential issue. 

Want to learn more about creating a secure online exam?  Read the Test Security Plan Checklist to learn how to strategically approach administering online examinations.

Developing a Test Security Plan