Imperial leads the way as medical students take final exams remotely

London university hosts online examinations with many other institutions set to follow suit

Credit: PA

Medical students at Imperial College London have taken their final exams online in what the university claims is a national first.

According to the Guardian, the sixth-year students were able to log in from home at 1pm on Wednesday and Friday of last week to undertake the ‘open-book’ assessments. The test saw students presented with details of a patient’s condition and history, as well as information from examinations and tests. The exam then posed 150 questions, which participants had three hours to answer. Marking of the papers was automated.

“It wasn’t possible to answer questions that require putting all this information together by simply looking things up online,” Imperial’s head of undergraduate medicine Dr Amir Sam told the Guardian. “This is exactly like having a patient in front of you.”

He added: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first digital open book exam delivered remotely for final-year students.”

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Dr Sam said that Imperial wold perform “psychometric analysis” of how the remote exam had “behaved” when compared with a traditional in-person test.

“If we show it has behaved in a similar way to a closed-book exam, then that is a new era for medical assessment,” he added.

As collective exams are cancelled, institutions across the country are likely to trial the use of remote online procedures in the coming weeks. The universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh have already confirmed that assessment for final-year students this year will include some form of open-book testing.

However, GCSE and A-Level exams – which, unlike university exams, are run and regulated at a national level, rather than by individual institutions – have been unilaterally cancelled. 

Instead, exams watchdog Ofqual has been asked to “develop a fair and robust process that takes into account a broad range of evidence, including teacher assessment and prior attainment”.

The government stressed that students will not simply be awarded their predicted grades.

“Ofqual will make every effort to ensure that the process agreed does not disadvantage any particular group of students,” the government said. “Pupils who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance will have the opportunity to sit an exam, as soon as is reasonably possible after schools and colleges open again.”


Sam Trendall

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