Software And Hardware

In terms of the actual hardware, most new computers are powerful enough to run computer-based tests. However, to maintain uniform administration of a test, certain basic features of the computer should be standardized. For example, for a musical aptitude test, the quality of the headphones may affect the sound quality. Candidates who receive poor-quality headphones may be disadvantaged relative to those who receive higher quality headphones.

Deciding the best deployment solution for a test depends on a number of issues, including security, platform or computer hardware accessibility, and expected number of examinees. From a software perspective, there are two basic design options. The program can either be a stand-alone system or a system integrated with the scheduling, administration, scoring, and item authoring applications. A stand-alone system is clearly simpler to design and build. Such a system is appropriate if the test developer does not expect to widely deploy the program, and the response data do not need to be collected at a central location.

A stand-alone system may be more at risk for compromise because the scoring key must be deployed along with the test to compute and report test scores. When maintaining testing facilities at various physical locations, each location is a potential avenue for test compromise. In such cases, encryption may be a necessary precaution against persistent hackers.

For large-scale testing programs such as the GRE or ASVAB, it becomes important to integrate the various development, administration, and scoring systems. For example, to maintain a continuous testing program, item pools must be rotated to avoid overexposure. New items must also be written and pretested to maintain the quality of the item pool. Integrating the item development tools into the administration software is needed, because pretesting new items is usually done with the operational test and actual examinees.

Of course, there are many intermediate solutions between a stand-alone and a fully integrated system. If the security of the scoring key is a concern, a stand-alone system may be connected over the Internet to the central server that scores the test. In this fashion, the scoring key never leaves the secure facilities of the test developer. A variant of the stand-alone and network configurations is the application service provider (ASP) solution. The ASP solution is essentially a network solution, except that the applications and computer servers are rented from the service provider. It is not an Internet assessment in the truest sense because the user is not able to freely access the test at any computer; the Internet is merely used as a means to distribute the applications.

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