Isn’t it anachronistic that students are still sitting down with pen and paper to write exams?  Northern Europe clearly thinks so and is ahead of the UK HE sector in switching to digital exams.  So, what's the best way to transition?

Brunel University recently hosted a digital exams seminar at which they posed the question: “Is the introduction of digital exams an evolution or a revolution?”. They concluded it was an evolution and that reflects the wider UK position, which has lacked the government direction of some of our northern neighbours. The excellent attendance at the Brunel event clearly showed that this is a topic exercising university teaching and learning teams.

SUMS was recently commissioned to write a management briefing on e-exams and we developed four conclusions:

1) It is time to start thinking about the switch

2) Plans for e-exams should sit within a comprehensive digital teaching and learning strategy

3) It is an opportunity missed if all you do is move exams from paper to digital given that digital exams could offer a richer learning experience to the student

4) As yet, there is no clear consensus as to the optimal infrastructure (software and hardware) for e-exams. Different universities take different views as to whether:

  • To ask students to use their own laptops or to use university equipment.
  • To wrap existing software in a secured web browser or to use specific e-exam software.

There are policy documents and implementation good practice that can be learnt from pioneers that can give you a head-start on your e-exam journey (if you are a SUMS member please request a copy of the e-exams briefing paper by contacting

As one Swedish University put it: “Saving time and money is not the primary reason for introducing digital examinations, but it is a welcome bonus. We are doing it because we have to. It’s coming, whether we want it to or not. Better to get started before the students start demanding it.”

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