Computer vs. Paper

Some people are uncomfortable with the prospect of taking a test on a computer. Computers are regarded by many people as impersonal, even hostile. Yet computers provide a great advantage in scoring efficiency, especially when the test is composed in a multiple-choice format.

One advantage of computer testing is that tests may be structured according to the level of difficulty. A software program may be progressively structured so as to dispense first with the easiest questions before proceeding to more challenging ones. This saves on time, anxiety, and expense. Computer testing and scoring is particularly apt when the objective is to rank test takers as a percentile segment of a peer group population. The paradigm is useful also in study courses aimed at successful performance on required admission tests.

Computer and software testing are sometimes found lacking in the area of navigation, the means by which the test taker moves through the test questions. It involves either keyboarding skills or the manipulation of electronic mouse devices, both of which operate at various levels of efficiency. It may be difficult for a person taking a test on a computer to move back and forth between questions and issues. On a paper examination, the test taker can peruse the entire section, or quickly return to a difficult question.

So long as one is proficient in keyboarding, computer-based testing is a more convenient way to compose written responses. The computer also provides a great advantage in editing, since it is much easier to correct grammar, sentence structure, and spelling, as well as to move whole blocks of text. On paper, mistakes require erasures and smudging; these do not make a favorable impression on test scorers. The cursive, manual writing of essays or compositions can be a tedious and even painful process. Though some people say the slowness of the manual process allows for greater depth of thought, manual handwriting is irregular in appearance and may confound the reader. Using a word processor to write an essay can be a much faster process.

The difference between computer- and paper-based testing is often a matter of personal preference, personality, and familiarity with the format. At a time when so much is made of "learning styles," it would seem reasonable to expect that required admission testing would consider different personalities and preferences.

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Last Updated: 03/01/2017


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