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SQA Digital Exams and Assessments with an IPad

by Paul Nisbet

on Wed Jun 06, 2012

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Quite a few people have been asking if candidates can use iPads to complete the SQA Digital Question Papers. Previously, the answer was 'no' partly because SQA prohibited use of iPads in the same way they do not allow mobile phones in the exam room. However, this policy has now changed and some pupils at Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock did use their iPads to access the digital papers this year. 

PDF Expert

The SQA Digital Question Papers are PDF files which can be read using many different apps including, for example, iBooks and Adobe Reader, but for digital exams we suggest PDF Expert which is the only app we have found that actually lets you type your answers into the digital paper answer boxes. PDF Expert lets you open the digital paper, type into the answer boxes, highlight and underline text, and add drawings and notes to the exam paper. Completed papers can be printed, saved and emailed. Cedars used PDF Expert on their iPads for the 2012 exams.



The digital papers work very well for question and answer exam papers which require short text answers. The screen shot shows how text can be typed into the answer boxes on an Intermediate 1 Computing Paper. To 'tick' the answer box, you tap with your finger.

The answer boxes can only accept text and so maths and science, where the learner has to produce equations and formulae, can be tricky to do digitally. 

With a stylus, it is possible to draw diagrams, graphs and maths and science expressions on the digital paper although I still don't find it as easy as using a pencil and paper, personally (must be an age thing?). Note that candidates have the option of writing their drawings and equations on the digital paper, or on a paper copy.

The second screen shot shows my scrawled attempt to draw a graph and work through an equation with the stylus. 



Using iPads in assessments and exams raises questions and issues particularly in relation to security. 
For obvious reasons, it is important to ensure that candidates who use technology in assessments and examinations cannot access files stored on the device or on the internet or on other electronic devices that could connect to the iPad. In Scotland, SQA state that it is the school’s responsibility to ensure that candidates cannot any electronic sources or files via the internet or on USB drives or mobile devices.
In addition, any tools that may help the pupil, such as spellcheckers, word prediction or the iPad Auto-correction must be turned off, unless you have permission for the student to use them, from SQA.
Here's how to do it manually, although I suspect the best approach is for the school technician or engineer to use the Apple Configurator or iPhone Configuration Utility to set up an 'exam profile' with these restrictions on your exam iPads. See Fraser Speir's blog on how he set up the Cedars iPads. 
  2. Back up the iPad. 
  3. Delete all the apps on the iPad that are not required in the assessment. This leaves the apps required for the assessment (e.g. PDF Expert, maybe Pages etc,) plus the built-in Apps on the device. 
  4. Delete all photos, music files, videos, contacts, reminders and other documents. Clear the browser history.
  5. Go into Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars and delete all the accounts. This prevents access to Mail, Contacts and Calendar.
  6. Remove any 3G SIM card.
  7. Prevent access to the school Wi-Fi using the school network settings. Check that there are no other wi-fi internet access points available.  
  8. Turn off Bluetooth: Settings > General > Bluetooth > Off.
  9. Now you need to prevent access to the built-in Apps, which are Newsstand, iMessages, Mail, Safari, iBooks, FaceTime, PhotoBooth, Reminders, Photos, Music, Videos
  10. Go to Settings > General > Restrictions.
  11. Click on Enable Restrictions and enter a passcode
    1. Turn off any apps that you don’t want the candidate to be able to access (i.e. all of them). This will remove the following apps from the iPad screen: Safari, YouTube, Camera, FaceTime, iTunes, Ping and installing and deleting apps. Note this still leaves Mail, iMessage, Calendar and Contacts that the pupil could access the internet to find previously hidden answers, which is why you need to prevent access to wi-fi or the internet.
  12. Allow Changes: 
    1. in Location, Don’t Allow Changes (this stops the iPad connecting to Wi-fi hotspots or devices)
    2. In Accounts, Don’t Allow Changes (this prevents anyone adding a new mail or other account)
  13. Turn off Auto-Correction and spellchecking (unless you have permission to use them):
    1. Settings > General > Keyboard > Turn off Auto-Correction and Check Spelling
    2. (Note that the candidate can easily turn them back on we haven’t found a way to prevent this.)
  14. You should now have an iPad with:
    1. no stored files, emails, photos, videos, sound recordings or other documents;
    2. only the apps which are required for the assessment;
    3. no spellchecking or auto-correct;
    4. no access to the internet or wi-fi;


and so the iPad should be secure.

If you have an iPad why not download some past papers from SQA's web site, try them out, and let us know what you think.

Tags: Books for All, SQA

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