Online Testing - India is leading the World after Decades of Playing Catch-up!!

Manek Daruvala, Founder and Director, Triumphant Institute of Management Education

Triumphant Institute of Management Education Pvt. Ltd. (T.I.M.E.) is India's leading test-prep institute with a pan-India presence and is headquartered in Hyderabad. Established in 1992, T.I.M.E. presently operates out of 251 offices located in 118 towns and cities across the country.

In 2001, XLRI, one of India's premier Bschools tried to move its admission test, XAT, for about 40000 students (back then) online. The move was not a success for various reasons and XLRI reverted to the paper & pencil mode for its test. In 2014, 92 lakh aspirants took the online Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) test which ran smoothly without any hassles.

Within just over a decade, the online-testing success story of India went from an also ran to being the world's biggest. Technology, the biggest enabler these days in almost everything is playing a huge role in the testing arena too. Let us understand in brief the history of online testing (in India and abroad) and its way forward as we see today.

Before that, let us look at the advantages of online-tests over the regular paper & pencil mode:

a) Quick turnaround for results - Instantaneous if needed
b) Tests to suit the taker: Different tests at the same difficulty level for different people at the same time. Simi larly, different tests calibrated at different difficulty levels can be administered based on the expected/suitable skill level of the takers. Adaptive tests, which show appropriate questions based on the accuracy of response to the previous question/test, are also available.
c) For the test taker, extremely rich performance analysis can be made available - question wise performance, time spent analysis, accuracy reports, question-selection judgement reports etc. While this may be needed for those who prepare for the tests and not the actual tests, a good proportion of the test-takers also prepare seriously for the tests and hence this is a shot-in-the-arm for those.
d) Focused preparation to improve on weaknesses - Based on the performance analysis, area/topic specific support can be provided by way of preparation vid­eos/study-material etc. to help the aspirant improve his ability.
e) Shorter logistics as no physical movement of material is needed, once the testing stations are set-up.

Brief Time Line of Online-Testing in India

Biggies like the GMAT exam and the GRE test adopted online-assessments in the mid-nineties and are consid­ered to be the vanguards of large-scale online-testing across the world. GRE, with around 5-6 lakh test-takers and GMAT, with around 3 lakh takers continue to be the biggest international online-tests even today.

Closer home, CAT was the first major exam that took the online plunge in 2009 with the help of Prometric, the testing company which administers the GRE inter­nationally. While the first year was marred by teething troubles, online CAT has been running successfully for over 2 lakh test takers every year from 2010 onwards.

"Create standardized tests for different purposes and have them available all through the year"

IBPS (Institute of Banking Personnel Selection) an­nounced its first online-test in 2013. 20 lakh+ takers were covered in 12 slots, around 1.75 lakh takers per slot. Administered by TCS, this test was a big success, heavily dwarfing Prometric's effort of 5-6 thousand test-takers per slot for CAT.

When TCS was enlisted to conduct the CAT exam from 2013 onwards, the number of test-days was cut down to two in 2013 and eventually one, compared to 40 of Prometric. GATE exam with 10 lakh plus takers entered the online mode in 2014, the same year in which RRB conducted the world's largest online test with 92 lakh applicants. In addition to TCS, many home-grown companies have developed online testing capabilities to be able to handle the scale and size that Indian tests de­mand. Indian companies like Aptech and Sify are also administering tests on a national scale, like CMAT, SNAP, CLAT etc.

Listed below are some crucial challenges these compa­nies had to face on their path to success:

a) Logistics of testing centers across multiple cities
b) Question development and translation into multiple languages
c) Hosting and administering the tests - smooth test en­gines/interface
d) Calibrating the tests to ensure fairness
e) Ensuring no malpractice takes place at all stages
f) Overcoming mindset barriers among organisations/ institutions/test-takers that online-tests are difficult to take compared to the regular paper & pencil tests.

Where Do We Go From Here!
Overcoming so many challenges and conducting tests on such a scale in a short time span of 3-4 years is truly com­mendable. We would, however, expect that the testing companies and the organisations/institutions conduct­ing these tests take the logical next steps to make online-testing in the country truly move to the next level.

a) Create standardized tests for different purposes and have them available all through the year. Facilitate tests for MBA/Engineering/campus recruitment/govern­ment jobs etc., to have a unified and standardized test which will relieve the test takers of taking multiple tests all through the year.

b) Design and calibrate tests so that organisations/ institutions across the country can take aspirants from a single test to meet their requirements across various levels of the candidate ability spectrum.

c) Move away from center based testing and enable testing from home. This needs the test taker being invig­ilated digitally while taking the test from his/her home to ensure sanctity of the testing process. This will solve many logistical issues, both for the candidate and for the testing companies.

With the kind of scale and sheer numbers of test-takers possible from a vast country like India, the oppor­tunities are many and it is up to the testing companies to invest in the right kind of innovation to be able to tap into the huge market that is online-testing.