Online exams vs offline exams – key differences

Janison|May 15, 2023

Exams are one of countless things the Digital Revolution has transformed. Traditional offline tests are completed in rooms and halls scattered with students, each with their own desk and exam paper, and under the watchful eyes of invigilators. Modern online tests are vastly different. They are released from the boundaries of space, able to be completed across vast distances, with paper swapped for screens and invigilation possible by both humans and intelligent software, each monitoring students in their own way.

In this article, we explore the key differences between online exams and offline exams, helping you to understand the pros and cons of each and whether switching to online exams is a good idea for your organisation.

1. Online exams can be auto-marked; offline exams require manual marking

Computers were invented to automate routine tasks such as calculations, and this time-saving capability is a key reason for their success. With offline exams, someone must work through each paper individually and score them based on the marking criteria. If the assessment is being double-marked for consistency, this has to be done twice. When the exam is taken online and driven by powerful assessment software, marking can be done automatically based on set marking criteria, which includes both straightforward yes/no answers as well as answers that require certain keywords or phrases. And this is only going to get better as artificial intelligence improves. For an organisation that runs thousands of tests each year, the time and money saved on marking can be immense.

2. Online exams are scalable; offline exams are limited by cost

For every student sitting an offline exam, they need a certain amount of space in a building, a desk, a printed exam paper, and an invigilator to monitor them. And the more students that are sitting the test, the more expensive and time-consuming the process becomes. For an organisation that needs to set thousands of tests, this simply isn’t scalable, which is one reason that online exams have become so popular. For appropriate exams that don’t require invigilation, s with little coordination required and invigilation achieved using software (plus humans, if needed).

3. Online exams can provide automated reports; reports for offline exams must be created manually

To analyse students’ performance and develop strategies based on the data, you’ll need to create reports. With offline exams, these need to be created manually after the exams have been marked and the information added to a spreadsheet. For online exams, because the results data is already in the system, reports can be generated automatically when they are needed, even immediately after the exam has finished.

4. Online exams require digital devices; offline exams don’t

Computers and tablets are ubiquitous, In this scenario, unless it’s feasible to rent devices for the online exam, offline exams may be the only choice.

A similar issue can arise in remote communities with poor or unstable internet connections, or a complete absence of the internet. These are obvious barriers to completing online exams. At Janison, we solved this issue with our Replay product, which allows online exams to be taken regardless of whether an internet connection is present and no matter how unstable it may be.

5. Online exams can be easily adjusted to cater for students with special needs; offline exams require more work

Some students may have special needs that make the exam difficult (or impossible) to answer. For example, students with limited motor ability may struggle with “drag and drop” style questions, or may not be able to use a mouse at all; students with colour blindness may find it difficult to read or interpret some questions depending on the colours used; students with poor eyesight may find it difficult to read small text; and some students may be entitled to extra time for certain questions or the entire test. With online exam software, all of these issues (and more) can be anticipated and rectified beforehand, with settings being changed and questions being replaced where needed. This makes them much more inclusive.

These changes are also possible with offline exams, but take much more work because the papers need to be redesigned (sometimes entirely) to meet the needs of each student.

6. Online exams require zero paper; offline exams use lots of it

Last but not least: offline exams require paper, and lots of it. That means more trees being cut down, more CO2 in the atmosphere, and a greater burden on our already-overheated planet. Online exams certainly require electricity, but the amounts usually have much less effect on our climate than the carbon-absorbing power of a tree (though there are a lot of factors at play here).

Online exams vs offline exams – compared

Online exams

Offline exams

Can be auto-marked or semi-auto marked Require manual marking
Are highly scalable at affordable costs Are expensive to scale
Can produce automated reports Reports need to be created manually
Require access to digital devices No digital devices required
Better for the environment Worse for the environment
Can be easily customised to suit students with special needs Hard to customise for students with special needs


Considering digitising your offline exams? Our multi-award Janison Remote platform could be just what you need.

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