Online Assessments Change Student Test-Taking Experiences


Pete Zivkov

Upper School science teacher Nina Arnberg teaches her physics class virtually. Due to distance learning, all assessments must be proctored over Zoom as well. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov.

Kaylie Wu, Staff Writer

For the first semester of the 2020-21 school year, COVID-19 has forced Menlo students to attend school virtually. In addition to adjusting to different class schedules and new teaching strategies, students now must take all of their tests virtually from home. There are several major disadvantages to online test-taking, such as distractions on students’ computers and not being able to ask teachers questions face-to-face. However, this new testing structure also offers many benefits.

For sophomore Helen Barkley, taking tests online means a more relaxed learning environment. “I think it’s more stressful to be taking tests in school because there’s a lot of pressure around seeing other people finishing the test earlier than you,” Barkley said. “There [are] also more distractions with people tapping their pencil or asking the teacher clarification questions.” In addition to fewer distractions at home, Barkley noted that teachers are more flexible about providing extra time on assessments. Some teachers have even been more understanding and generous about moving test dates if a student has a conflict or is simply too overwhelmed with other assignments, according to Barkley.

Even though being at home for tests limits distractions for Barkley, an article by The Daily Tar Heel states that some students are more distracted when they are not in a classroom. Distractions may also depend on what a student’s home situation is like.

In Menlo’s online learning system, a significant number of tests have been altered to be open note, which eliminates any cheating aspects. However, making tests open note does not necessarily mean that they are any easier or that students have to study less. For example, senior Yvonne Li still studies the same amount for all of her exams. “A lot of my tests are open book, but teachers structure them so that you’re not going to find the actual answers in your notes,” Li said. “The notes serve as supplemental information.” Some of Li’s tests allow her to use both her textbook and personal notes.

Since many open note tests are specifically formatted so that direct answers cannot be found in notes, students still need to practice specific concepts and formulas in order to receive a good grade, according to Li. “[Open notes] are like a crutch,” Li said.

Freshman Zaila Vazquez has only attended Menlo in-person so far during her assigned week of hybrid learning. Besides that one week, however, Vazquez’s freshman year classes have been completely over Zoom. This year is not the high school experience Vazquez expected; nevertheless she still feels pushed to perform well and earn good grades. “Being at home while taking a test is more comfortable and familiar,” Vazquez said.