In a boardroom in central Wellington with faulty air-conditioning and a view of the harbour, a trio of journalists muddled their way through a digital NCEA exam today - an experience that will be rolled out across a third of exam subjects next year.
Hopefully for college students, the experience will be a little different as they swap hand cramp-inducing paper exams for those carried out on laptops.
They probably won't be drinking coffee and eating chocolate biscuits as they stress over whether they've analysed the unfamiliar text in their level 1 English exam correctly, and there's unlikely to be a radio journalist in the back of the classroom narrating his progress into a microphone.
If feedback the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has already received on digital examinations is anything to go by, students will be tapping away their answers with a fair bit more confidence than usual.
\NZQA today announced it will offer a digital platform for taking exams across 14 NCEA subjects in 2019, compared to the three subjects currently available online.
The subjects make up 35 exam sessions from levels 1-3.
"The subjects represent around a third of the exams that are mainly text-based," deputy chief executive of digital assessment transformation Andrea Gray said.
"We will further expand the range of subjects in 2020 and beyond."
About 8000 students around New Zealand are sitting digital exams, over 52 schools. That's out of the more than 139,000 students nationally sitting any type of NCEA exam.
Surveyed students have been positive about the switch to digital, with many appreciating the ability to cut and paste sections of text in their answers and go back to edit. The fear that their handwriting could be illegible to markers is no longer an issue.
Not all subjects are equal on a computer though - trials for a level 1 algebra test showed more than 90 per cent of students did not find it to be a better experience than paper exams, Gray said.
But subjects such as English were well received.
Trials for foreign languages will be rolled out in 2020.
Gray said the digital format could allow NZQA to ask questions differently as well.
For example, although this was not something that would necessarily happen, students in a maths exam could be given a list of formulas and be asked to pick and order them, rather than write them out themselves.
Students in the areas that digital exams are being offered are able to choose to do them on paper if they wish - even if they are already part way through the digital exam.
Digital exams also allowed NZQA to look at more innovative measures. In science exam trials they were able to provide students with animations and videos as part of their resource material.
"They did very much like the resources," Gray said.
Other potential innovations included remote supervision of exams, and the ability to test students at any point in the year when they were "ready", rather than lump all exams into a few weeks at the end of the year.
This possibility would be some way in the future and would need to be carefully handled with schools.
"NZQA is working closely with schools and students to ensure our approach meets their needs. We are designing and developing our external digital assessment services through working with schools and the wider education sector to ensure we get it right."
Gray said digital testing was most relevant for students, "reflecting the way they use electronic devices every day".
Since 2014, almost three quarters of New Zealand secondary schools and about 30,000 students have experienced at least one digital exam.
Which subjects will be available digitally in 2019?
- English (L 1-3)
- Media Studies (L 1-3)
- Classical Studies (L 1-3)
- Agricultural and Horticultural Science (L 1-3)
- Health (L 1-3)
- History (L 1-3)
- Art History (L 1-3)
- Business Studies (L 1-3)
- Home Economics (L 1-3)
- Social Studies (L 1-3)
- Latin (L 1-2)
- Education for Sustainability (L 2)
- Te reo Māori (L 1)
- Te reo Rangatira (L 1)