Models of Efficiency

Department of Pharmacy Practice at University of Rhode Island

Taking Tests Online
Marcia Layton Turner
University Business, December 2013
College of Pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island
Program Category: 
Technology-based exams are a good fit for the pharmacy school, which is housed in a $75-million, technology-rich facility that opened this fall.

After tripping over boxes of old exams at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island for the umpteenth time, clinical faculty members Kelly Matson and Jayne Pawasauskas decided there had to be a better system.

Since exams are required to be kept for two semesters, the amount of paper used and boxes needed to store them at the institution became unwieldy. Add to that the amount of time needed to photocopy exams, the money spent on paper and toner cartridges, and the negative impact on the environment.

Initial estimates indicated that the College of Pharmacy alone was spending $23,500 a year on hard-copy exams for its 360 students. That figure took into account the carbon footprint of the paper and ink used in printing 40 required-course and 30 elective-course exams annually. It also included the labor costs of preparing, proctoring, grading, and storing the paper exams. Electronic exams were looking more and more appealing.

As Matson and Pawasauskas began investigating exam software programs, they had to keep in mind the fact that the university’s internet service was unreliable. Finding a program that could deliver exams without having to remain connected to the internet during a test was important, says Matson.

In addition, finding a program compatible with the college’s learning management system, Sakai, was also essential.

ExamSoft met the requirements, Matson and Pawasauskas determined. The system was compatible with Sakai, and could make exams available to students 24 to 48 hours prior to a scheduled exam.

Students can download the exam to their laptops, which they are required to bring to class, but cannot open the exam without the password their professor provides at the start of the exam time.

The next step was approaching the college dean and presenting their findings regarding cost, time, and environmental impact. With the cost to administer a paper-based exam at $65.27 per year and the ExamSoft licensing fee per student at $55, approval was a no-brainer.

The institution started with pilot classes of 20 to 30 students and conducted before and after surveys to gauge student and faculty perspectives toward electronic exams.

The reaction was overwhelmingly favorable. An astounding 97 percent of students felt that receiving feedback on their performance would be beneficial to their success in the program. And more than 80 percent of students felt feedback was easier to receive electronically.

ExamSoft allows faculty members to give their rationale for asking particular questions when sending corrected exams back to students, says Matson.

Faculty also preferred electronic testing, with 67 percent reporting they would be less worried about cheating and 80 percent indicating the software was easy to use. Being able to evaluate which types of questions were proving most difficult for students, or to advise students on where they needed more review—without taking up time during office hours—was priceless. Overall, 84 percent of faculty and students responded favorably in support of electronic exams.

Despite the strong support for the transition to electronic exams, “we’ve rolled it out slowly here,” says Matson. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing with roll outs.”

Eight in 10 faculty members are now using ExamSoft and the college anticipates 100 percent participation by next year.

The School of Nursing is also using ExamSoft. Its participation has helped drive down the per-student licensing fee and increase the total annual savings to more than $5,000.

As Matson says, “It’s a good thing all around.”