In the upcoming exam session, some students will have to take exams that will be monitored by proctoring software. HSE University Life spoke with Anna Grigoreva, an analyst and doctoral student at the Institute of Education, who has experience with both sides of the exam process—being a proctor and a test taker.
At the HSE campus in St. Petersburg, we organized exams for international applicants. Back then, in 2015, this was all new for the campus, and the whole system had to be built from the ground up—we had to find professors, graduate students, and colleagues who could serve as proctors, set up an exam timetable, finalize the schedule, assign time slots, and draw up and distribute technical instructions for conducting the exams.
In order to hire proctors, we had to have them sign legal contracts and go through all of the university’s usual financial procedures, so the process itself was quite complicated and had to be done in advance. The International Office took care of all this, and I, as the admissions manager, served as a guest proctor. We were also compensated for our work, which was nice, and the process overall was carried out in a professional manner, with the constant support from our Moscow colleagues at the HSE eLearning Office and the HSE International Admissions Office.
In order to become a proctor, you have to not be a student and you have to familiarize yourself with the instructions for working with Examus, conduct a test run of the system in advance, log in to the exam on time, and so on. The main task of the proctor is to monitor the student on the screen to ensure that they do not cheat, but Examus is a smart system. It records both the student via their computer camera as well as their desktop. Also, the system itself flags the main types of cheating and automatically issues a warning via chat to the student. The proctor just needs to monitor this, and, if it happens again, send a comment. If a student receives a certain number of comments, he is removed from the exam. You can view the recording later if you have to leave your screen for a moment, but, ideally, you have the screens with the students in front of you at all times during the exam.
In 2019, I started my doctoral studies at HSE University, and this time I found myself on the student side of the online testing process. It was very interesting to see how the system works from the inside and experience it from the other side. This year we took the philosophy of science exam. I can say that the system is pretty easy to work with; you can test it out in advance. We were given the opportunity to do so within 10 days before the exam.
You have to sign a consent form for the processing of your personal data and send it electronically and by mail within five days after the exam. During the proctored exam, you see your own focused face in a window on the right as well as the questions you’ve answered so far and the remaining time, which is convenient for managing your time during the exam. Before you complete and close out the test, you can return to previous questions and change your answers if you want. You can plan your response time based on the number of questions—for example, you can take an extra 2-3 minutes to think about a difficult question while answering easier ones right away.
Examus is similar to the international IELTS or TOEFL English language assessment systems, which are also largely based on the academic integrity of the testing procedure. For people who have experience taking these exams, it will be pretty easy to figure out Examus.
One complication of the procedure is that you need to have your passport with you to take your exam. In our group, there were cases where someone didn’t have their passport with them, but requirements like this are all laid out in the detailed instructions.
Possible technical problems usually occur when logging into the system or result from an unstable internet connection. Therefore, students are invited to perform a system check before they begin the exam. If you have a poor internet connection, for example, you can get kicked out the system and then you have to start the test all over again. Generally, though, there is nothing to worry about.
Based on my experience with organizing onsite entrance exams for international applicants, which were also recorded on a video camera, I can say that as an examiner you feel more at ease when you can personally instruct the students, answer preliminary questions, and, if something looks suspicious, walk around to get a better look at what someone is doing. Remotely, it is more difficult to solve problems if someone panics. In order to provide support in these situations, you have to be able to stay calm and remain professional. I learned this from my colleagues at the eLearning Office who are excellent at this. Also, preliminary system testing helps solve a lot of problems. I would recommend that all students take advantage of this option and do system test runs in advance. Then you’ll know what to expect on the exam.
Probably, taking an online proctored exam is a new experience for most people, and it can cause a lot of stress due to the fact that you cannot see the examiner’s face during the exam. But do we really gain much information from personal interaction with the examiner? To the contrary, not having any distractions often helps us focus on the questions and do better on the exam.
There may also be concerns about technical issues, but it is not so scary if you test your computer in advance—all the system requirements and instructions are sent to students in advance before the exam, so you have the opportunity to test your system beforehand.
This is a difficult question. From a formal standpoint, yes, I think that online proctoring can indeed replace written tests or assignments that are essay or short-answer in format.
In terms of efficacy, real exams nonetheless seem more effective to me—even if they are conducted via Zoom or some other open communication platform. This is because when you have a live examination committee sitting before you, they communicate with you, they can ask you follow-up questions in response to your answers, and the exam itself involves contact with a specific person, which means the end result is not just your own responsibility but that of your examiner as well. This is all the more so if your teachers are your colleagues. Proctoring is more about preventing academic fraud and nothing more. Therefore, I personally think that in-person exams are still more effective.