Study Finds Digital Exam Features Impact Scores for Younger Students

Can student scores on paper-and-pencil tests and computer-based tests be considered equivalent measures of knowledge?

To find out, a recent study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) looked at scores from 33,000 students in grades 4-12 who took two computer-based tests (CBT) and one traditional paper-and-pencil test (PPT). Researchers concluded that features of a specific computer testing system matter and can impact a younger student’s overall performance.

One CBT format was administered on an open-source online testing system called TAO, while the other was made available via the AAAS assessment website. Overall, elementary and middle school students scored lower on the CBT formats. However, they performed worse on the AAAS system — citing the fact that these digital exams didn’t allow students to revisit previous questions as a possible reason. Meanwhile, high school students performed similarly on all test formats.

“This may indicate that being able to skip, review and change previous responses could be beneficial for younger students in elementary and middle school, but have no influence on older students in high school and college,” according to the study.

In addition, non-native English speakers in the study performed better on written exams compared to digital exams, but scored significantly lower than their classmates on both formats. Notably, the differences in scores for these students compared to their classmates whose primary language is English were greater for both of the two CBT formats.

Comparing Student Performance on Paper-and-Pencil and Computer-Based Tests” was presented at the annual meeting for the American Educational Research Association (April 27-May 1).

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at

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