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A New FREE Editor for Creating Digital Prelims Assessments and Resources

by Paul Nisbet

on Fri Mar 27, 2015

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PDFescape is a new browser-based PDF editor with the facility to insert form fields (answer boxes). The free service lets you upload a PDF, do simple editing, add form fields, and then download back to your computer. The PDF can then be accessed by learners on computer using for example Adobe Reader, or on an iPad.

PDFescape has got two significant advantages: it is free, so you don't need to buy a PDF editor such as Acrobat Pro, and since it is browser-based, you don’t need to install any software on your computer.​

Inserting form fields is straightforward but entirely manual – there is no automatic form field recognition as provided by Acrobat Pro. Text, check (tick), radio, list and dropdown fields can all be inserted. There are also some limitations:

  • The answer boxes do not have coloured borders so you cannot give them the red border that is used by SQA on Digital Question Papers. This also means that they are invisible to the user unless the ‘Highlight Existing Fields’ feature is activated by the user in Adobe Reader.
  • The answer boxes do not have a colour fill option – they are transparent so if your PDF has handwriting lines they will show through – unless you use the editor to draw in a white box to cover them up.
  • You have to set the properties of each field when you create it – you can’t set default properties - which is slower than setting default properties for all your fields.

PDFescape looks like a great resource for adding answer boxes to PDFs of classroom resources and internal assessments, but for prelims we think it’s good practice to create papers with red answer boxes like the SQA digital papers, which requires Acrobat Pro or one of the other editors. Also, it lacks a lot of the features of Acrobat Pro, such as scanning and text recognition, editing text, page numbering, setting tab order of answer boxes, etc. Lastly, it doesn't have Accessibility tools and so you cannot ensure that your PDF is accessble to users or, for example, screen readers. 

Verdict: a good tool for making class resources, but we think you need Acrobat Pro or similar for creating prelims. 

Tags: SQA, digital exams

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