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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning


The Project

During 2016-17 and 2017-18, the University ran a pilot project in Computer-based examinations. The purpose of the pilot was to test the use of a secure bring-your-own-device approach for students to type their examination scripts, as opposed to handwriting, and allow secure central submission of the script. Questions were presented and completed online in a secure environment, and once scripts had been submitted they were printed and distributed for marking in the normal way.

The primary objectives of the pilot were to:

  • evaluate the suitability and desirability of computer-based examinations for use at the University;
  • identify benefits and challenges;
  • enable an informed choice regarding potential in widespread adoption.

The pilot also aimed to develop guidance on the implementation of computer-based exams, to inform any future adoption whether or not this is University-wide. The pilot aimed to test whether the experiences of both students and examiners are enhanced through this approach, and whether the logistical challenges (such as provision of adequate power, room allocation, keyboard noise, etc.) may be met on a larger scale.

The University chose for the pilot a commercial application which takes a ‘locked down’ approach, providing basic text editing but disabling use of the internet and other applications on the device, effectively providing a secure word-processing facility. The software, along with three years of past papers, was made available for students to test during the Lent Term. Students wishing to type but without access to a device were offered the opportunity to have a loan device for the day of the exam.


Latest Updates - July 2018

The initial pilot was very successful, and enabled the University to evaluate the suitability of the software and technical challenges within the estate. However, cohort numbers were deliberately kept small in the initial pilot in order to ensure risk remained low, and there was little opportunity to fully evaluate the challenges of offering the technology on a large scale. A number of potential related benefits were also identified that the University was not able to evaluate in detail during the pilot, such as secure electronic delivery and marking of scripts, and electronic preparation of exam papers.

Therefore, the University has extended the pilot for a further three years, through the Easter Term 2021. This extended pilot will give us the opportunity to fully evaluate the suitability of these types of examinations within the Cambridge context and identify future ambitions.

The initial pilot took place with the Faculty of History and the Faculty of Classics. All undergraduate and taught Master’s courses have now (July 2018) been invited to express an interest in participating in Years 3-5 of the pilot. Planning will take place over the summer in order to agree which subjects and Paper(s) will be part of the next few years, along with what benefits will be tested in each area.

The project is overseen by the Board of Examinations, the Digital Teaching & Learning Sub-committee (DTLS), which has representation from all six Schools, University Information Services, and the Centre for Teaching and Learning. The project is managed by a Project Board with representation from all of the bodies above, as well as representatives from the Cambridge University Students’ Union, the Disability Resource Centre, and Educational and Student Policy.

Pilot evaluation will primarily be through surveys and focus groups, to enable both quantitative and qualitative data collection. The Project Board will consider the views of students, examiners, exam hall supervisors, and administrators. In considering the success of the project, the Board will consider both logistical challenges in relation to scalability and rollout, the student and examiner experience, and potential barriers to wider adoption.


If you have any further queries on the project then please contact the Project Manager at:


Latest news

Digital Advocates Network event

8 June 2018

The Centre will be holding a networking event for the Digital Advocates, on 25 June 2018. This exciting event will be focused around a series of case studies presentations and small group discussions.