A new study was published proving that students score lower when they take exams on computers.

Researchers examined a group of 30,000 elementary, middle and high school students to found how computers influence their exam performance. Some students took a test on computers that didn’t allow them to return to the previous question. Those students who took the same exam on paper performed better because they could skip, review and change their answers to questions.

The Core Of The Study

For the study, researchers gave the test to students of different grades that assessed their knowledge through different systems. There was a traditional paper-and-pencil test (PPT) and two different versions of computer-based tests (CBT).

One CBT was performed with an open-source testing system that allows students to skip questions and move through the test, while the other CBT was performed using the special assessment website that had a strict test structure. Moreover, in the first version of the test students clicked directly on the text corresponding to an answer. In the second version, they clicked on a letter corresponding with an answer.

Computer-based Exam

Results showed that not all students scored lower on computers. Elementary students, for example, scored much higher on a computer-based exam during the second version of the test. Middle school students didn’t have any difference in scores on two types of tests.

What’s interesting, though, is that when students could skip and change their previous answers on computers, they showed good results and scored higher.

Does Gender Matter?

Researchers analyzed both boys and girls of different ages and backgrounds and didn’t find any gender influence on their performance during tests. However, they found that students whose mother tongue wasn’t English had lower scores on both computer-based and traditional tests. Researchers didn’t find the underplaying cause for the difference depending on the language but assumed these are linguistic difficulties of students from non-English speaking environments that limit their opportunities to understand questions.

Overall, the study indicates that tests performed on computers should allow students to skip, review and change their answers. It is especially important for elementary and middle school students. Moreover, the study found that it can be harder for younger students to mark an answer in a different location on a test. Researchers assume this is because they have poorer organizational skills and lower concentration than older students.

Paper and Pencil Exam

Researchers also stated that students who are physically impaired find it more difficult to match an answer to a letter somewhere at the bottom of the page because it requires more cognitive processing. An additional level of complexity leads to lower scores.

The researchers said that test structure shouldn’t be an obstacle for students thus it’s important to allow them to review and change answers.