Testing students at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and evaluating what the results mean presents special challenges. Students in the first two years of medical school learn in units based on organ systems. For example, they take a block on cardiology and another on the cardiovascular system.

More than 250 faculty members provide content during those two years, some lecturing for 40 hours and others for only one.

The exam over a particular block might have questions that relate to biochemistry, pharmacology, normal and abnormal biology, and many other areas, so a test score might not reveal that a student is falling behind in a particular area.

Then there’s the logistical problem of testing the 230 students per class. Being able to administer tests to all of them at once in a secure fashion was the original reason the medical college officials began looking for a software program that would help with testing, said Dale Vandre, assistant dean.

It wasn’t feasible to put that many students in a computer lab at the same time, added Eric Ermie, program coordinator for testing and evaluation in the Office of Medical Education.

Officials at the school implemented ExamSoft and worked with company officials to modify the system for their medical school setting. Once they started working with the software, they realized that the benefits went beyond helping them manage test questions and administer exams. The software also allowed them to evaluate student learning outcomes more precisely. “We could focus more on the education side rather than the technical side,” Ermie said.

And ExamSoft has applications beyond medical schools. For example, it’s popular among law schools and for bar exams. If you are seeking a secure testing method, consider whether it could be the solution.

Students take exams on their own laptops

With ExamSoft, students download an exam onto their laptops before the exam time but they can’t open the files until the test begins. The students take the test together in a large room. Once they unlock the exam, their computers are not able to access any other functions until the exam ends.

The questions appear in more than 20 random sequences, so students can’t follow along as classmates complete the exam. That’s an important feature for ensuring honesty because the students fill the room where tests are administered, Ermie said.

Most of the tests are multiple choice, but the school has also used the software’s capacity to handle essays. The faculty have also used it for an anatomy test in which students had to identify structures in the body and spell their names correctly. The software can recognize a range of correct answers.

Students receive their scores as soon as they complete tests, Ermie said. That’s a feature administrators can control, but the med school officials chose to allow them to see the scores.

However, officials tell students that the scores are preliminary and could change slightly once the exam is analyzed. Reviewing the results enables officials to quickly recognize bad questions, Vandre said.