The Virtues of Virtual Proctoring, with Dr. Greg Sadesky

Published on:

July 19, 2017

Read time:

7 minutes

Yardstick’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Greg Sadesky discusses the benefits of virtual remote proctoring for high-stakes exams.

Accessibility, convenience, consistency, cost and accreditation.

You pretty much have to live in a cave these days to NOT have heard about virtual proctoring (also commonly referred to as “remote proctoring”) for online testing. And if your cave has a decent Wi-Fi connection, it would be as good a place as any to take your exam.

As a psychometrician that regularly works with regulatory and credentialing bodies, I’m most interested in virtual proctoring for high-stakes applications, particularly related to certification and licensure exams. In this article, I will present what I consider to be the main advantages of virtual proctoring in the high-stakes context, with a brief description of why they’re advantages. I’ve also identified who benefits most from each virtue.

1. Accessibility

I live and work in Canada. If you’re familiar with the Great White North, you’ll note that it occupies a rather large area. Yet most of the population lives within a couple hours drive of its southern border with the United States, making the rest of the country, well, remote. Many of the organizations with which Yardstick works will have candidates who live in these remote areas and may have to travel large distances, at considerable expense, just to sit an exam. Virtual (or remote) proctoring solves this problem by using the internet and the candidate’s webcam to observe and record candidate behaviour. Of course, you don’t have to be a Canadian test publisher to have remote areas for which virtual proctoring would be a convenient solution.

Who benefits: test takers and test publishers.

2. Convenience

Being able to write a proctored exam anywhere, via an internet connection, is a major convenience, particularly for people living in remote areas. But, the convenience extends beyond that. Virtual proctoring enables candidates to take an exam whenever proctor and candidate are available. If you’re a candidate, this is a huge advantage because you’re not forced to take the exam when you’re not ready or, for instance, after you’ve just driven for six hours to get to your exam centre.

What’s more, I would argue that this advantage benefits psychometricians such as myself at least as much as it does candidates. When test takers can choose to write a test when they’re at, or close to their best, it means that their knowledge and ability will play a proportionately larger part in what score they receive. To understand this better, imagine that in the Olympics, you could guarantee that all 100m runners were feeling 110% at race time. You would feel more confident that the winner was in fact the best runner and not just the best on that day. That same increased confidence should follow from writing an exam on demand; because the test taker can choose when to write their exam, they’re more likely going to be at their best, and you as a test administrator will have increased confidence that, pass or fail, they have been evaluated fairly.

Who benefits: test takers and psychometricians.

3. Consistency

An often overlooked advantage of virtual proctoring is the consistency of the proctoring quality across all locations and candidates. The simplest way to think about this is that in a virtual proctoring situation, you are just as likely to get the same proctor regardless of which location you are writing your exam. It is well known among organizations that administer exams internationally that in some countries it is more difficult to find reliable proctors and testing facilities than others. A similar argument could be made for the consistency across dedicated brick and mortar test centre locations versus computer labs that make themselves and their staff available for high-stakes administration on an intermittent basis. Virtual proctoring helps this situation by conferring uniformly high standards to all test takers and the various geographic locations in which they are being testing, which translates to greater reliability of the credential being awarded.

Who benefits: test publishers and the public.

4. Cost

As you might expect, virtual proctoring is generally less expensive than in-person testing. Since test administrators or test delivery companies don’t need test locations, computer and surrounding technology like cameras and broadband internet, a substantial component of the overall exam cost disappears.

Who benefits: test takers and test publishers.

5. Accreditation

In 2017, the first high-stakes, virtually proctored examination program was accredited under ANSI/ISO 17024. I have no doubt that this approval will ultimately change the complexion of high-stakes testing. In some circles, this approval was seen as premature, and that currently, virtually proctored examinations are not supervised to the same extent as live proctored exams. There are various lines of argument against this stance, including the difficulty in verifying proctoring standards in brick and mortar centres after the fact. Notably, in a recent presentation I delivered on automation and virtualization in professional testing, one attendee suggested that virtual proctoring had raised their overall level of supervision in remote and international locations.

Who benefits: test publishers and the public.

What’s next?

We’re clearly still in the early stages of using virtual proctoring routinely for high-stakes exam administration and not every organization is comfortable with it for their exam program. However, the writing is on the (cave) wall and I am confident that virtual proctoring will become more and more prevalent, especially for high-stakes exam administration.

In a future article, I’ll examine in more depth the limitations of virtual proctoring for high-stakes exam administration, and why some organizations are reluctant to consider using it.

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