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Taking Online Tests - Challenges to Overcome

May 30, 2013 - Posted to  Writing in General
Nearly one-third of college students in America take at least one online class. Total enrollment has now surpassed 6.7 million, according to a recent report from the Babson Survey Research Group. In addition to taking courses on the internet, these virtual students also complete quizzes, tests, even midterm and final exams online. As problematic as traditional, high-stakes standardized tests have always been, they cannot compare to the technical glitches that may and often do occur on the internet.

What can go wrong?

College students aren't the only ones who have embraced online learning. Millions of schoolchildren take standardized tests electronically. But even as the technology and access to it continues to improve, major "interruptions of service" are not at all uncommon. That euphemistic phrase is generally code for "the servers crashed and we lost all of your testing data." In other words, "You have to take the test over again because we don't know how you scored."

Common problems

Depending on the network and the capacity of the servers, a crash can occur at anytime. Students will be essentially kicked offline and will not be able to regain access to the internet. After a crash, some data may be saved and others may be lost and still others may be compromised or corrupted. The bottom line is that any data that is recovered will be useless and the students must retake the test or exam.
Login problems are also a major cause for concern. They can happen to anyone at anytime for almost any reason. When they are reported, the student may be asked to switch to a new computer, if one is available. These issues are generally a bit easier to anticipate and deal with when a student is working remotely and does not have to worry about a server crashing or a network going down. A college kid who is taking an online class at home, for example, should be able to complete a test or exam from the privacy of his own home without any problems. Of course, they do occur from time to time.

How can you avoid them?

You can't! Technical problems happen all the time online. As inopportune as it may be, if you get "locked out" of a test before you complete it, your information will almost assuredly be lost. However, there are a few steps you can take to minimize your risk of encountering these "interruptions of service" while taking an important test.

Before you begin

If you are using a popular web browser like Microsoft Internet Explorer, make sure you clear the cache and restart you computer before you log into the testing site. This will allow your web browser to function more efficiently. It is also important to either install or update to the current version of Java, since it is the most popular program language on Earth. You may also choose to add the testing site to your trusted sites list, which should ensure easy access.

While taking the test

Don't resize your window after you log into the testing site. Some web browsers will automatically refresh the screen when you resize it, which can lock you out of the site and force you to lose any information you may have submitted. Furthermore, you may not be able to reenter the testing site if it is programmed to only allow each user a one-time pass, as testing sites often are.
Refreshing the screen or clicking on your browser's Back button may also lock you out of the site, since many of these tests are timed and revisiting pages is not permitted. Unlike traditional tests, online students are rarely afforded the opportunity to go back to an unfinished section if they have extra time during an examination.
Another common glitch that can be found in many virtual tests is that the backspace key often performs the same function as clicking your web browser's back button, which could boot you off the site. Therefore, you must make certain that your blinking cursor is inside the text box before you depress the backspace key. Only then will you be safe.
Last but not least, do not view material on any other website while you are taking an online exam. Your instructor will undoubtedly set the site to prevent this, since it could be used for cheating. So, even if what you're doing is perfectly innocent, like checking stock quotes or sports scores, you could find yourself locked out.

What to do if you get booted and can't get back in?

In most cases, you must contact your teacher or professor directly and convince him/her that you didn't do anything wrong. If they accept you side of the story, the instructor can simply "clear your attempt," which will grant you access to the test again. However, you will have to start all over again.

What do you do if get locked out from the start?

Getting booted and not being able to even log into a testing site are obviously two very different issues. If you have trouble accessing a test or exam on any website, the problem may be that you are continually double-clicking. You need only click once to enter a testing site, since double-clicking often attempts to take you to the second page, which will immediately lock you out of the websites.

What do you do if you see a popup warning after clicking the submit button?

Because they know that technical issues are an ever-present problem, online test takers often save their work after each and every question. But sometimes when they do this, a warning box will pop up when they go to submit their answers upon completion. To avoid this issue, it is best to use the save button at the bottom of the page, rather than the ones that are next to each individual question.
If the repeated saving was not the issue and you still see a warning box when you go to submit your answers, it may mean that you missed a question or two. Unlike traditional tests, most online exams do not allow you to skip over a question and leave it blank. Therefore, you must review your work to make sure that you have answered all of the questions.
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