Interview with Ms. Frau Böhner-Taute about Essay Questions in E-Examinations

Boehner-Taute People generally associate the word ‘e-exam’ with exams solely consisting of single-choice questions or other closed question types. It is, however, also possible to use open questions in electronic exams. Yet, many teachers stick to paper-based exams as open questions have to be corrected and marked manually anyway. Nevertheless, there are several advantages in using open questions in e-exams as a study by Schulz/Apostolopoulos (2010) S.38 has shown.


Ms. Böhner-Taute, research assistant of the chair of social structure analysis at the University of Göttingen, regularly deploys essay questions in her e-exams.


She told us in an interview that her predecessors had decided to implement electronic exams due to an increasing number of students and the necessity to control exams more efficiently. Moreover, Ms. Böhner-Taute added that computer-based exams provide a better readability of students’ answers. Since the introduction of e-exams, she continued, the correctors no longer have to decipher students’ handwriting, which has notably reduced their workload. Compared to a paper-based exam, the test correction now only takes one fourth to one third of the time previously needed, Ms. Böhner-Taute said.


Ms. Böhner-Taute and her team had also considered using closed question types in their exams for a more efficient assessment. Yet, in addition to imparting knowledge, the field of sociology aims at teaching students how to argue effectively, she said. Consequently, sociology exams also consist of closed questions, but most questions are put as follows: „Please give a short outline of XY’s theory/hypothesis/way of argumentation”. Those skills cannot be assessed through single-choice or cloze questions, Ms. Böhner-Taute concluded – only essays show whether a student has profound knowledge of a text or a theory.


Furthermore, she does not see a big difference between paper-based and electronic exams. Ms. Böhner-Taute stated that more organisational effort is required prior to an e-exam (booking of the room or creating questions in ILIAS), but during the exam everything runs smoothly and she has not observed any differences concerning the students’ results. The decision for electronic exams was, besides the aforementioned better readability, based on the consideration to keep up with the times, Ms. Böhner-Taute said. According to her, an early familiarization with the medium is important. Moreover, electronic exams allow teachers to have several groups consecutively write an exam, she continued. The spatial conditions of the e-examination room prevent students of different cohorts from exchanging information with each other. Ms. Böhner-Taute further stated that compared to paper-based exams in narrow lecture halls, the risk of students copying from each other is also reduced as the questions can be mixed. She never had to caution a student during an e-exam: „The e-examination room is well-equipped for exam situations. Bags can be stored in the compartments, the aisles are wide and there is a privacy film attached to each monitor.”


Students who had previously expressed concerns regarding technological aspects also get on well with this method of examination: “We have not had any complaints about this type of exam”. Furthermore, Ms. Böhner-Taute said that students have the possibility to take a mock exam prior to the real exam in order to familiarise themselves with the room and its special conditions. She recommended that students who have not written an electronic exam before use this opportunity.


Overall, Ms. Böhner-Taute would advise all lecturers to implement e-exams. Not only is this the future method of examination, she concluded, it is also fun to work with ILIAS. At last, Ms. Böhner-Taute emphasised the effective communication with the service for Digital Learning and Teaching.