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How to Build an Online Examination System from Scratch

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The recent ascent of the e-learning industry — fueled by the global pandemic — has forced many educational institutions to rethink the way they approach the examination process. The traditional 'pen and paper' method is slowly becoming a thing of the past, making room for more efficient and resource-saving techniques to assess student progress.

In today's blog, we will provide insights on the benefits of creating an online exam application, demonstrate how to develop an online examination portal, and detail some of the most important features that should be present in such software.

Key Benefits of Building an Online Examination System

Flexibility and security

A fully automated system allows educational institutions to simplify the examination process. To start, teachers or exam proctors are no longer required to go through the tedious process of setting up an exam, supervising each and every student, manually creating post-exam reports, etc. In just a few clicks, teachers can access the exam database, select the required questions, set time limits, and proctor exams live from any location.

As for security, this has always been a huge issue for many higher education institutions during final exams, bar tests, SATs, etc. By utilizing an online examination system, it is possible to greatly reduce the number of potential leaks and completely remove the opportunity for cheating, as there is no paper involved and each student takes the exam separately (with no possibility of interacting with other participants.)

Getting rid of outdated infrastructure

With the traditional approach, exams are normally conducted in physical locations (centers), which take lots of effort to manage and maintain. Aside from that, outdated technological infrastructure often struggles to provide examinees with digital devices (tablets, laptops) for tests that involve any kind of listening or viewing tasks.

Online examination systems, on the contrary, allow you to set up tests for any number of students — 10, 100, 1000, or more — without having to worry about location, time, and equipment. So, instead of investing top dollar in outdated infrastructure, schools can build an online exam system from scratch for a fraction of the price and obtain better results.

Reducing logistical and management costs

New technologies bring all examination activities online and, thus, almost completely reduce printing costs (on average, schools in the US spend somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 a month on paper printing). With automated examination systems, schools and other institutions can see large savings on exam administration, since they no longer need to have exam proctors onsite to supervise the whole process.

Another issue is the logistical expenses that can be incurred by both educational institutions and examinees. When exams are administered online, there's no need for students to physically travel to a designated location. This becomes especially beneficial for 1) students with mobility conditions and 2) international examinees who struggle to travel to the exam centers (especially due to travel restrictions set by different countries during the Covid-pandemic).

Online Exam System Design Best Practices

Secure browsing

The secure browser feature commonly comes as part of the examination system and prevents students from opening any windows or switching between different tabs during the examination process. This technology prevents students from using keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy and paste. It can also block any software that may run in the background to try and record a test.

The secure browser can also either entirely block a student's window — and make the examination platform the only tool that is working during the test — or send warning messages when a student tries to move to a new window or run any app. All messages can be immediately sent to supervisors and recorded in the database.

Course supervisors can further fine-tune this feature: for example, the exam can stop automatically after a student gets 2-3 warning messages.

Remote proctoring

With the help of remote proctoring, students can pass exams at any location while ensuring the exam's integrity. Remote proctoring can come as a standalone platform or as a part of the entire examination system. To ensure that proctoring is being conducted as required, the system analyzes data that comes from different sources and spans across the following processes:

  • Image capturing — every 30-40 seconds, the system captures a candidate's photo (using a web camera) to validate his/her identity.
  • Screen capturing — software can validate test integrity by taking screenshots of screens at different time intervals to assess their actions.
  • Video streaming — educational systems can stream videos live from a student's camera during tests to allow proctors to remotely supervise the examinee.
  • Voice proctoring — the system can also record voice and background noise or sounds to verify that tests are completed without assistance from other people.

Audit logging

A custom online examination system can record all the actions taken by a student: logins/logouts, exam access, responses, section navigation, etc. The Super Admin (a person with complete access to system features and sections) can receive a detailed activity log from the candidate appearing on the test — IP address, internet speed, and even track the precise location of a student.

Aside from that, you can also audit the activities that were performed by other team members regarding the course: question creation, test creation, question edits, etc. In broader terms, audit logging procedures help to tell administrative personnel who, what, where and when have interacted with the system.

Data encryption

To ensure a high level of exam data privacy and security, all information — including the question bank — has to be encrypted and stored in a secure environment. This helps avoid any potential database misuse and unauthorized manipulation of test results.

In addition, all communication between clients (students) and the server needs to be encrypted to facilitate the confidentiality of the examination process. As for decoding, only authorized personnel should be allowed to access actual information.

Online Examination Software Features to Consider

Admin Panel

This section allows administrators to create and edit access roles. In addition, they can view dashboards for exam status, and check the number of users taking the exam, etc. Admins can also manually add or remove students from exams. This all helps educational institutions gain better control over the examination process and make it more flexible — which is especially important when students take exams remotely.

Student Profile

Here, students can check their performance, grades or points earned while going through exam tests, the number of tests they've passed, etc. This panel also provides students with information about future exams, and their schedule, date, time, etc.

The functionality of this module is normally defined by the permissions enabled by the Super Administrator. Aside from getting basic information, students can be granted rights to edit their profiles and select particular exams.

Content Management System (CMS)

This is where authorized personnel can manage all exam content. They can import or export question banks, and manually edit selected questions and course sections. Aside from textual assignments, advanced examination portals also support multiple types of content, which means teachers get the ability to upload into CMS images, video, audio files, etc.

Different learning interactions — such as drag and drop, sequencing, multiple choice, blank space, matching, marking — can also be added to a course module in CMS. Course administrators can also create and assign different exam templates with unique sets of questions to different groups of learners.

Examination Management Module

Here, administrators can edit modules, create new ones, set the duration of a test, limit the maximum permitted number of mistakes or negative answers, enable the display of an answer sheet once the exam is done, etc.

Administrators can control which questions are assigned to which sections, change the weight of different subjects and even compile an examination matrix that will control the amount of questions pulled from a question bank for a particular exam. Broadly speaking, the goal of the examination management module is to define and set exam rules.

Exam Evaluation Module

In this section, students see the examination results that come in the form of a Q&A document with the correct or incorrect answers highlighted. This module normally contains such characteristics as Name of Subject, Date and Time of Exam, Number of Attempts, Time Taken, Score, Document Export Options, etc. The Exam Evaluation Module can also support notifications, and automatically send emails or SMS messages to student's parents, upon completion of the exam.

Online Examination System: Tech Stack

While each and every product is unique and the choice of a particular online examination system tech stack should depend on the project needs, we'd suggest using HTML and CSS for front-end in examination portals with basic functionality. On the client side, you can use JavaScript and jQuery; while we'd suggest going with PHP for backend, as it is a great option for those who are new to web development.

Custom Online Exam System Development Challenges

Question bank management

The quality of online exams directly depends on the quality and accuracy of a question bank. Thus, it is in the best interest of educational institutions to ensure that they have established high standards regarding question bank management — who is responsible for it, who is involved in creating questions, how the organization ensures the quality of information that goes into this database, and so on.

Another challenge lies in the fact that there will be multiple subject matter experts (SMEs) involved in the preparation of the question bank. They will all be putting together questions for individual subjects/exams/topics, which means that the administrators will have to ensure that the question bank integrity is maintained and each SME is working only with his/her area of expertise.

Infrastructural barriers

Another common challenge arises when the online examination system needs to be integrated with the already existing infrastructure of an educational facility. If the organization has up-to-date equipment, the integration of a new solution can run quite smoothly but, oftentimes, a lot of schools and higher education institutions run all their activities on outdated software and hardware.

This means the deployment — and further use — of a custom online examination portal may become challenging. To prevent that from happening, it's highly recommended to 1) assess your existing infrastructure and 2) plan the integration process before online examination system development starts.

Abstract answers dilemma

While online examination systems help to automate the grading process, they are still not able to completely remove manual reviews from the equation. This is all due to long-type questions where students are expected to give free-form answers addressing abstract topics and subjects.

For now, it's hard to come up with an algorithm or technology that will be able to assess student's answers of this nature, and attribute them a specific weight (based on the level of knowledge demonstrated by an examinee). In such cases, the teacher's participation in the review process will still be required.

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Custom Online Examination System?

When it comes to development of a custom online examination system, the final price tag will strongly depend on project requirements and the number of modules you want to implement. Also, development costs can be influenced by scope of work and scalability possibilities of a system.

The creation of a very basic examination system may start anywhere from $5,000 and can go up to $50,000-$70,000 for a fully fledged portal with all the functionalities mentioned above. Time wise, it may take 2-3 months for a development team to create an online examination system.

Note that these are approximate figures. If you want to get a more accurate estimate for your project, contact one of our managers.

The approach you take to build an online examination system (in-house/outsource) and the location of your team (on-shore/off-shore) will also affect the production budget. For example, development teams from the US and Canada normally charge 2-3 times more compared to European teams.

Our experience

As an outsourcing development partner, WTT-Solutions has been involved in the production of multiple educational products, one of which is a mobile application called PLH — a parent training platform that helps to establish healthy relationships between caregivers and their teens, and reduces the risk of domestic violence.

On the platform, parents are educated on effective parenting strategies that allow them to avoid harsh discipline practices at home and ensure their teen doesn't develop potential behavior problems in the future.

Our task was to create a flexible system that would give a user full control over its components, their configuration, and location directly within the app. We used a system of classes to describe the appearance of internal components, their size, color, etc. For this project's tech stack, our team used Ionic and Angular and it took 990 man-hours to deliver a final result to the client.

Conclusion

With the rise of digital technologies, the in-person examination process is considered expensive and ineffective by many educational institutions due to the high administrative costs involved. Moving all exams online, on the contrary, can not only save both teachers and students from the hassle of getting ready for the test, but also help schools and higher education facilities utilize their budgets more effectively.

Shifting from offline to online exams has helped Australia’s Monash University save about $4.7 million in equipment and management expenses. Other institutions, like The University of Oslo and The University of Bergen, have also adopted online examination systems to effectively conduct exams during the COVID-pandemic. The BYOD (bring your own device) initiative has also gained traction in Europe in recent years, allowing educational facilities with limited resources and outdated infrastructure to benefit from EdTech solutions, as well.

If you want to get more information on designing an online examination application, or are on the lookout for a reliable software development partner, reach out to us. At WTT Solutions, we have extensive expertise producing mobile applications and platforms for a wide range of industries, including EdTech. We have experience working with startups and established enterprises. Complete the form in the top right corner of this page and our manager will get in touch with you in no time!

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

⌛ What is included in the development costs of an educational system? What about updates?

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Software production costs include expenses associated with project analysis, requirement gathering, development of the platform itself, project management, UI/UX design, and QA. Platform updates aren’t normally included in production costs; however, they can still be carried out by a development team, at a client's request.

💵 Do you provide training? Can you help with educating our teachers on how to use the software?

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Yes. On request, we can carry out a few training sessions for your team and even produce educational materials. Contact our managers for more details in that regard.

💻 Is there a limit to how many learners can interact with an educational platform?

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Custom educational systems created by our team don't have such limits. As your needs grow, the system can be scaled easily, allowing you to 'load' as many students into the system as you need.

🚀 Are there any extra fees or costs I need to be aware of in advance before you start working on my project?

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Before we start to work on a project, and after analyzing the main requirements, we provide clients with all necessary information regarding production costs. We ensure that clients are well aware of all potential expenses, in advance.
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