Synap Blog  |  13 min read

Switching from paper-based testing to online exams

Digital evolution: From manual to automated, transform your exam delivery with online innovations. In-person exams


Traditionally, paper-based exams have been the cornerstone of assessment in educational and professional settings. However, as technology continues to evolve, the landscape of examinations is undergoing a profound transformation.

The advent of online exam platforms welcomes a new era, marked by automation, scalability, and flexibility, transforming the way exams are administered and experienced.

Join us as we examine the key differences between paper-based and online exams, and uncover the benefits and efficiencies afforded by digital testing solutions in the modern era.

1. Creating exams

Paper exams

Gathering questions: Creating exam papers for in-person assessments can be a challenge due to the multitude of educators holding different question sets. This challenge is further compounded by the diverse formats in which questions are stored—some may be in Word documents, while others are in PDFs.

Resource-intensive printing: After compiling the exam questions, the resource-heavy process of printing exam papers for every candidate ensues. This not only consumes a significant amount of paper, but also contributes to environmental concerns regarding paper waste.

Logistical nightmare of updates: The complexity of exam creation deepens when updates to questions are required, transforming the process into a logistical nightmare. Coordinating updates across different question sets and formats poses significant challenges for exam administrators.

Printing exam papers-1.Printing exam papers

Online exams

Streamline question storage: The transition to an online exam platform presents a solution by unifying the question format and providing a structured environment for exam creation, streamlining the process and enhancing efficiency.

If exam questions exist in PDF or Word format, most online exam platforms offer a user-friendly question editor. This simplifies the transfer process through a straightforward copy-and-paste method, ensuring seamless integration of diverse question formats.

Efficiency of question editor tool: A user-friendly question editor tool allows educators to easily create new questions, add them to the question bank, duplicate existing questions, and export questions for external work, enhancing efficiency and productivity.

Bulk uploading of questions: For those with questions stored in a spreadsheet or CSV format, the transition to online exams becomes even smoother. Robust exam platforms can support mass uploading of questions, saving time and ensuring a quick and efficient transfer of question content to the online environment.

Creating a question

2. Scheduling exams

Paper exams

Logistical realities: In the realm of face-to-face exams, logistics often reign supreme. These assessments typically unfold on a designated day, within a specific timeframe, and within the confines of a testing centre or room, often overseen by an in-person proctor. The process demands significant administrative efforts to secure venues, arrange proctoring, and coordinate with candidates.

Limited flexibility: While some flexibility may be extended to candidates regarding exam times, the option for complete flexibility when choosing specific dates and times are often constrained. This limitation stems from the labour-intensive nature of scheduling for exam administrators and proctors.

Travel commitments: In-person exams entail substantial travel commitments for candidates, who must carve out time for commuting to and from the testing venue. Particularly for high-stakes certification exams, candidates may find themselves traversing cities, states, or even countries, entailing meticulous travel arrangements and considerable time investment.

Testing venue

Online exams

Scalability and flexibility: Embracing an online examination platform brings forth a paradigm shift in scalability and flexibility. While the synchronous completion of exams remains a hallmark feature, the online environment offers unparalleled scaling capacity, unbound by physical venue limitations. With the click of a button, a robust testing platform can seamlessly accommodate thousands of candidates, all commencing their exams simultaneously.

Enhanced scheduling options: The flexibility of scheduling reaches new heights with online exams. By setting specific windows of exam availability, candidates gain the liberty to choose their preferred testing time, whether at 1am or 1pm, they can take the exam at their convenience.

Greater convenience: Online exams provide numerous benefits for candidates, especially in terms of remote accessibility. Candidates can take exams from their own homes, cutting out the need to travel to a testing location. This saves time, transportation costs, and reduces the stress associated with commuting.

Additionally, being in a familiar and relaxed environment can help alleviate exam nerves, enabling candidates to perform better. Overall, online exams create a more comfortable and accommodating testing experience for candidates.

3. Grading exams

Paper exams

Manual grading: With traditional paper-based exams, grading is predominantly a manual process. Educators spend numerous hours meticulously reviewing and assessing each response, resulting in a laborious and time-consuming task.

Educator frustrations: The workload associated with the repetitive nature of manually grading paper exams can take a toll on educators, leading to feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction. Educators often express a desire to allocate more time to their primary role of teaching, rather than spending countless hours on administrative tasks such as grading exams.

Educator manually marking

Online exams

Streamlined grading: The transition to online exams revolutionises the grading process, offering a streamlined and efficient approach. Automatic marking of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, dropdown, and other question types, significantly reduces the grading workload.

Educators also benefit from marking dashboards that facilitate the coordination of marking written responses and essays, enhancing efficiency further.

Enhanced focus on teaching: By saving educators a substantial amount of time on grading, online assessments afford them the opportunity to allocate more time toward teaching and engaging with candidates, thereby enriching the educational experience.

The shift to online exams not only modernises the grading process, but also enables educators to reclaim valuable time to provide a more impactful educational experience.

Marking dashboard

4. Exam security

Paper exams

In-person proctoring: With paper-based exams conducted in a face-to-face setting, security is often ensured through in-person proctors, who typically are internal staff member. A human proctor may walk around the room to monitor candidates and deter cheating behaviours.

Cost and availability: In-person proctoring can be quite costly, as it involves hiring and training human proctors. For proctors who are internal staff, it also involves reallocating the individuals from their regular business duties, disrupting workflow and productivity.

Additionally, it is limited by the availability of proctors, especially during busy work periods. These factors contribute to increased administrative overhead and resource allocation.

Limited scalability: The effectiveness of in-person proctoring is restricted by the proctor's capacity to monitor a limited number of candidates simultaneously. This limitation can impact the scalability of exam security, particularly for large cohorts.

In-person proctor

Online exams

Rise of remote proctoring: Online exams have witnessed the emergence of remote proctoring technologies, ensuring secure monitoring through video or screenshot recording. This method enables continuous surveillance of candidates from remote locations.

Lockdown browser functionality: To prevent unauthorised access and cheating, online proctoring solutions often incorporate lockdown browser functionality. This feature restricts candidates from accessing other browsers, using desktop applications, or attaching second monitors during the exam session.

Integration of artificial intelligence: The use of artificial intelligence further enhances security by automatically detecting cheating behaviours, such as use of mobile devices, plagiarism, or unauthorised assistance from others.

Enhanced scalability: The integration of on-demand, remote proctoring ensures exam integrity round the clock for global test takers. With proctors available 24/7, monitoring exams becomes a seamless endeavour, enhancing the overall proctoring efficiency and accessibility of the examination experience.

This flexibility eliminates geographical barriers and time constraints associated with in-person proctoring, facilitating seamless exam administration on a larger scale.

Synoptic breach detected

5. Static and dynamic exam formats

Paper exams

Static exam papers: With paper examinations, candidates typically face a standardised set of questions presented in a fixed order, constituting what is known as static exams. This format ensures consistency across test-takers and simplifies the process for manually administering the exam.

Introduction of variations: Occasionally, organisations may introduce a limited number of variations to the exam paper, which are rotated between test takers to enhance fairness and prevent cheating.

While variations add an extra layer of security, they also introduce complexities in exam administration. Exam administrators must carefully manage and track the distribution of variation sets to ensure equitable treatment of all candidates.

Paper exam

Online exams

Preserving familiarity: The transition to an online testing system maintains the option to deliver static exams and incorporate variations, ensuring continuity with familiar practices from paper-based exams.

Versatility with dynamic exams: A sophisticated online exam platform can introduce a revolutionary approach to exam authoring that transcends the constraints of traditional in-person exams. Administrators can embrace the innovation of dynamic exams, where questions are randomly generated from an extensive question bank using predefined logic.

For example, a set of 10 questions tagged with 'Biology' and 'Easy' can be randomly selected for each candidate, ensuring that each test-taker receives a unique set of questions, while adhering to the same underlying logic.

Scalable dynamic exams: This dynamic approach not only adds an element of fairness, but also enables exam administrators to effortlessly generate thousands of unique exams in a matter of minutes, an approach that is extremely difficult to administer for paper-based exams.

Dynamic exams

6. Issuing exam retakes

Paper exams

Manual retake processes: For in-person, paper-based exams, the process of issuing retakes is predominantly manual. When candidates fail an exam, retakes are administered through a labour-intensive process. This often involves significant administrative effort and coordination to arrange for retake opportunities.

Delayed retake opportunities: Immediate retakes are often unfeasible for face-to-face exams as exam papers need to be manually marked, delaying the issuance of retake opportunities. This delay can prolong the time it takes for candidates to attempt a reevaluation of their performance.

Administrative overhead: Exam administrators must manually identify failed candidates, determine specific exam dates for retakes, and engage in back-and-forth communication with candidates to finalise arrangements. This administrative overhead adds to the complexity and time required for managing retake processes.

Online exams

Automated retake workflows: A good online assessment platform can offer a range of automated workflows, streamlining the process of issuing retakes. Automated systems handle many aspects of retake administration, reducing the need for manual intervention and streamlining the overall process.

Swift policy configuration: Retake policies can be configured swiftly with an online exam platform, with exam administrators having the flexibility to determine retake schedules, and the number of allowed retakes. This flexibility enables administrators to tailor retake policies to meet the specific needs of their organisation.

Immediate access to retakes: Upon failing an exam, candidates can receive immediate notification and, if applicable, access to retake opportunities on an online exam platform. This enables candidates to promptly attempt a reattempt of their test without unnecessary delays.

Future retake scheduling: Alternatively, an online testing platform can facilitate the automatic scheduling of retakes for the future. This provides candidates with ample time to prepare by reviewing course content, developing their knowledge further, or arranging 1-to-1’s with educators.

Automated communication: Instructions for retakes, including details about scheduling, procedures, and guidelines, can be automatically generated and communicated via email with an online exam platform. This automated communication enhances efficiency and ensures that candidates receive timely and relevant information about retake opportunities.

Automating retakes

7. Awarding certificates

Paper exams

Delayed certificate processing: In the realm of paper-based exams, the issuance of certificates to successful candidates is often subject to delays, due to the reliance on manual marking processes. This dependency on human intervention prolongs the time it takes for candidates to receive their credentials.

Logistical hurdles: Following the completion of exams, the process often entails forwarding candidate information to a certificate printing service, introducing logistical complexities and potential errors in data transfer.

Time and cost: Printing and postage expenses add both time and monetary costs to the certificate issuance process, contributing to prolonged processing times and increased administrative burden.

Environmental impact: The reliance on paper copies for certificates not only adds to the administrative workload, but also poses environmental concerns, as it contributes to high usage of paper and resource consumption.

Extended waiting period: Candidates are often left waiting for weeks or even months to receive their certificates, causing frustration, and impeding their ability to utilise their credentials for career advancement or further education.

Online exams

Efficient automation: A sophisticated online testing platform transforms the certificate issuance process by enabling efficient automation. Exam administrators can set up the certificate issuance process in a matter of minutes, streamlining the workflow for thousands of candidates simultaneously.

Immediate certificate delivery: Branded or custom certificates can be instantly generated and issued to successful candidates upon successfully passing an online exam. This immediate delivery enhances the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for candidates, providing instant recognition of their achievements.

Enhanced candidate experience: The immediate receipt of certificates significantly enhances the candidate experience, fostering a positive impression of the examination process and the issuing institution.

Convenient access: Candidates can conveniently access their certificates digitally, allowing for easy download and printing, if required. This flexibility ensures that candidates have quick access to their credentials whenever required.

Social sharing: The digital nature of online certificates facilitates effortless sharing via a QR code or on professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn, enhancing visibility and recognition within professional networks and facilitating career advancement opportunities.

Certificate verification page

8. Accessibility for exams

In-person exams

Administrative overhead: Managing accommodations such as extra time or modifications to the exam paper entails a significant amount of administrative overhead. Exam administrators must meticulously track and allocate resources to ensure equitable treatment of all candidates.

Distractions in testing venues: Conducting exams in a physical testing venue, particularly for candidates requiring extra time, can pose challenges. The presence of other candidates completing their exams and leaving the venue simultaneously can create distractions and disrupt the testing environment.

Social stigma: Candidates who receive accommodations may experience feelings of embarrassment or self-consciousness, as they may feel singled out from the majority of test-takers in the exam venue.

Segregation of candidates: In some cases, candidates with additional needs are held in separate venues from other candidates, potentially leading to feelings of isolation or stigma.

Online Exams

Built-in accessibility features: A modern, remote exam platform is designed with integrated accessibility tools, enhancing the inclusivity and user-friendliness of the testing interface. These features cater to diverse needs and ensure equitable access to assessments.

Examples of such tools include provision for additional time allocation, customisable font size options for exam papers, and compatibility with screen readers, enabling candidates with varying abilities to navigate and engage with the exam content effectively.

Comfort and focus: Taking exams in the comfort of their own homes allows candidates to minimise distractions and focus more effectively on their assessment, particularly if they require extra time or accommodations.

Reduced social stigma: By eliminating the physical presence of other candidates, online exams help reduce the potential for embarrassment or stigma associated with receiving accommodations. This fosters a more empowering and inclusive testing environment for all candidates.


Delivering exams on paper compared to online presents distinct differences in logistics, efficiency, and overall experience. Paper-based exams often involve manual processes for creation, distribution, and grading, leading to significant administrative burdens for administrators and educators.

In contrast, online exams leverage automation via a digital platform to streamline processes, offering greater convenience, scalability, and flexibility. With online exams, educators can create, administer, and grade exams efficiently, while candidates benefit from remote access, immediate feedback, and enhanced accessibility features.

Overall, the transition from paper-based to online exams represents a shift towards a more efficient and user-friendly examination experience.

Deliver exams effortlessly

Elevate and streamline your online exams with a 14-day free trial