Pearson Edexcel is offering up to 125,000 pupils the option to take digital examinations for GCSE English from next year onwards.
The exam board hopes to provide a digital option for all subjects by 2030.
Sharon Hague, Managing Director for Pearson Schools, said: “This is a pivotal moment for on-screen assessment in the UK.
“On-screen is a better experience for students who need accessibility adjustments. Students can zoom in to increase font size and choose colour filters on-screen during exams, something their schools or college would otherwise need to request in advance of their exams.”
“It’s clear that an examination system that relies purely on pen-and-paper testing is outdated”
– Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders
Hague argued that digital exams allow students to annotate information, cut and paste text, and edit their answers more easily – capacities they will have at their disposal when they enter the workforce.
Other major exam boards in the UK have proposed implementing digital assessments for Computer Science by 2025, as well as for reading and listening components of Italian and Polish by 2026.
Exam board AQA hopes that students will sit at least one major subject digitally by 2030.
Hayley White, Pearson Edexcel’s Assessment Director, told Tes Magazine that demand for on-screen-supported exams has increased in recent years. In 2023, there were 15,000 typed responses for GCSE English alone.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s clear that an examination system that relies purely on pen-and-paper testing is outdated.
Handwriting has a deeper level of processing as you have to map the sound of a letter, to the visual representation of the letter and then produce the sequence of strokes to write the letter
– Mellissa Prunty, Occupational therapist at Brunel University
“As well as being more accessible for some students, digital exam papers should prove simpler to mark, easier to transport and hopefully less expensive to administer.”
Barton added that the digital examination “does not come without challenges”, including unequal access to technology amongst students.
Some have expressed concerns about the shift to digital exams, worrying that they will weaken students’ handwriting skills.
Mellissa Prunty, Divisional Lead for Occupational Therapy at Brunel University, told The Telegraph: “[Handwriting] has a deeper level of processing as you have to map the sound of a letter, to the visual representation of the letter and then produce the sequence of strokes to write the letter. It supports these early literacy skills.”
She said educators must promote a “hybrid world” where different literacy skills are promoted.
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said the digital exam proposal will be subject to regulatory approval.