Monthly Archives: December 2012

The future of online tests…

Can someone give me a more really meaningful and engaging test?

 

I hope so… All of us have written tests. Starting from school days and then when we wanted college / university admissions and then when we wanted a job. Life in itself is another test. Which one do we enjoy? Well frankly, none of them. There is one other test though that many enjoy, and especially kids. Guess what? We dont even call it a test but we love it. GAMES… 🙂

Games are tests. Really powerful tests. Angry birds tests so many of our skills, knowledge, ability to strategise, plan, find the right angle, our understanding of height and distance, rigid body mechanics and even fracture mechanics when you need a few hits to break something and more to break others and that too at the right place. It must be testing more now but I am not following it anymore…

I used to love playing Wolfenstein 3D when I was in high school. That was a challenging game. Memory was crucial to play that game. We had to get through buildings which were a maze. 9 levels in each building and I remember playing 5 such sequences. Planning was also key. We had to know where we could get food, where medicines, where wealth etc and be able to plan how we get there and beyond. Digging out carefully hidden treasures, health and food were nice to do…. 🙂

 

Now, do any of these have any relevance to the way we do tests for professional purposes i.e. like selecting candidates for admission to college / university or for a job? Not much yet. Guess the puzzle solving requirements of Microsoft and their quizzing is one. I remember solving one puzzle of theirs when I was in college. Well. I didnt attend their interview coz I was a mechanical engineering student but then it took 2 days to solve it. Thats an interesting test to take.

So, what would companies and universities do, say 5 years down the line to choose candidates? Guess they will all move away from two things.

  • Relying on checking knowledge of component competencies alone
  • Paper based tests

 

Let me explain. Let me take a case close to my area of specialisation. Mechanical engineering and being more precise, computer aided engineering. When we want to hire someone who can be good at structural analysis of a particular aerospace system for example, we have multiple choices. We could either ask him/her to show us how he/she would do it. The trouble there though is the length of time we would take to get to a conclusion in this mode. We would all love to have somebody to spend a few days or may be more on a task before we can judge. Thats simply not available. So, we then list out all component knowledge that a person would require to execute this task, list out tools that one should be adept at handling and list out the systems / components one would have to handle. Then, we quiz them on those

  1. Knowledge (of engineering concepts in this case)
  2. Tools
  3. Domain

It is not very easy to do all of these in limited time. So, we also rely on records of their experience.

If this were for admission to a university, component 1 (knowledge) would dominate or probably be the only one. Are we happy with the result? Not always. We then end up seeing that this person may have an issue with say ‘decision making’ or ‘planning’ or simply ‘lack of focus’ on the job. Then, we add psychometric assessments to the set of tests we do.

While there are obviously many many more ways that people implement such tests and probably add rigour of multiple tests or interviews, the point is that it all costs time and effort and we would all love to use more meaningful and interesting ways to test candidates. Can we test multiple factors in lesser time? Factors like

  1. Knowledge of subject
  2. Problem solving ability
  3. Communication skills
  4. Planning ability
  5. Perseverence, will to succeed etc
  6. Willingness to learn
  7. Ability to cooperate

I could add a few more that actually matter when it comes to whether someone can succeed in a job or in a university course.

All this leads me to think whether we could devise games that can test many of these aspects, if not all in shorter time and with more precision. By precision, I mean the correlation between a positive output from the test and success of that candidate.

Now to the second point; of online tests. A game is of course an online test; whether played in a smart phone or on a desktop computer. Offline games could also be good but there are serious limitations in regard to resource to conduct such games. It is already seen that many organisations have started moving to online tests rather than use the paper based Optical mark reader (OMR) sheet system. Many more and I believe almost everyone will eventually move out to online tests for the below few reasons

  • The relief from limitations of geography
  • Transparency
  • Speed of publishing results
  • Cost
  • Lastly but very imporantly, ability to test much more…

The objective type questions which still dominate the scene would have to give way for newer methods of testing. Interactive tools including games are going to be essential to test much more than component knowledge and skills.

Lastly, the learning from the games is not to be discounted. While testing might be a primary purpose, the same can be used in a learning mode too. Militaries have certainly been at the forefront of exploring methods to assess skills including psychological skills but for the civilian world, we need alternates that help quickly and more meaningfully deliver tests and get better outputs while delivering a great experience to the candidate too… I believe that online games; interactive with the system and probably even interactive across a group of candidates could find a place in tests conducted sometime down the timeline….

Will write more as I learn. Please do leave your comments. Thnx.

Jai Hind !!! (This is my regular ending…)

 

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