The MLE team performs many exam related tasks. For half of the team, Exam Periods are the busiest times of the year. During these times we support computer-based exams of different types:
- Perception defined response exams
- Python programming exams
- SPSS and Excel exams
- Written exams where the candidate is entitled to a computer
Other kinds of computer-based exams also take place, such as “open book” practical exams which test students’ practical skills with tools such as SPSS and computer programming environments such as Java and Python; in these exams students use the computers normally, but under invigilated exam conditions. The MLE team is the first point of contact for problems in these situations, although the brilliant iSolutions Deployments team is officially responsible for the computers in these cases.
This year was the first full year where we used ‘ExamStart‘. ExamStart is an account that prepares computers for exams by locking students out of anything but the exam they are taking, but less obviously it also allows the MLE team to do some incredibly useful things.
When you are taking an exam with ExamStart (and to be clear only when taking an exam) our system takes screenshots of your work. If anything was to happen to the computer or your work during the exam, we would be able to provide proof of your work up to the point of failure. MLE staff also save considerable time by remotely supporting Invigilators without always having to attend the room, or spotting small issues with a computer from our desks which we can then fix before it becomes a real problem.
By Thursday at around 3pm we had recorded over 100,000 screenshots using up 5.5GB of filestore space in .PNG files.
This real-time data allows us to know exactly where exams are taking place and when exams are finishing. It’s about an hour before the end of the semester one exam period as I write this and our screen is currently showing us
From this we can ensure that we are in the right place at the right time for submission and printing, and to ensure that someone is always available to help if an exam over-runs past 6pm.
All the real-time data is saved, allowing us to pull statistics such as these:
- 2,519 computer based exams were taken with the Exam Start system (plus 190 exams that didn’t use Exam Start)
- 5,813 hours of exams were done on our workstations
- 465 distinct workstations were used by students
- 310 exam scripts were printed
- 1,601 students took a QuestionMark Perception exam, which was automatically marked
There is always the risk of a problem when using computers, but during exams these risks are so much more important. Not many issues are raised at the start of the exams, because we attend in person the great majority of computer-based exams (presumably around 2000 students saw us), but we are often called in for printing issues, especially in the smaller in-school rooms.
This year between 13/01/14 and 24/01/14 we received 51 tickets specifically relating to exams issues. 35 of these were actual problems and 16 were general day-to-day queries which happened to be exam related.
Length of day
Using our real-time statistics we can be sure that we are on campus until the last exam finished. Averaging over the two weeks this meant that we were on site until 17:51, with the longest day ending at 18:20.