The future of Onscreen Assessment - why English first?

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GCSE English will be our first exams in a core subject to go fully onscreen, subject to Ofqual approval. But why GCSE English first?  

The answer builds on ongoing research, pilot schemes and conversations we’ve undertaken to better understand how onscreen assessments might work, why and in what way they’re useful for students (and schools and colleges) and importantly, why and when we should implement them.

The onscreen journey so far

Onscreen assessments aren’t new to Pearson. 12 years ago, we introduced the first completely computer-based English test with the ‘Pearson Test of English’.  Since then, we’ve continued to develop our onscreen assessment offer across vocational and professional qualifications, and now to schools and colleges worldwide. 

With over 12 years/ experience in delivering onscreen on demand Functional Skills English (and Maths) and BTEC assessments, we have also introduced onscreen assessments to GCSE Computer Science, a mocks service and modules within high-stakes International GCSE and International A level qualifications in seven subjects. Today we collectively support millions of students across the globe to complete onscreen exams every year. All the while, developing onscreen options for core subjects like English has remained a priority.

Why English first? 

In all subjects, onscreen assessments have substantial potential to empower choice and enhance inclusion across the subject. Enhancing inclusion in English in particular is vital to help students achieve the foundational learning they need now and for their futures - equipping them to create, communicate, engage and interpret the words of the world around them, whatever their aspirations and interests across the curriculum more broadly. 

Recognising where onscreen assessment can have the most impact continues to be a strong motivating factor in our conversations, trials and wider research. Ensuring that no learner is excluded by assessment options in English means ensuring everyone has an equitable opportunity to thrive in this core subject; that students can best show what they know and can do, in a way that suits them, and then apply this key learning elsewhere in their lives.

Our school communities recognise this better than anyone, and interest in onscreen assessment options today is significant, as are the expectations around how these can better support all children and young people in the UK. 

The 2023 Pearson School Report highlighted that:

  • 4 in 7 teachers expect to see an increased use of onscreen tests for high-stakes assessment in the next 10 years.
  • 6 in 10 expect to see a greater emphasis on edtech and digital learning by 2033.
  • 52% of English teachers expect to see an increase use of onscreen assessments by 2033.
  • 51% of English teachers specifically said they believed new technologies in their schools had already improved their ability to provide remote/flexible learning.
  • 48% wanted to see adaptive, personalised testing made part of assessment options within the next decade - for example, AI selecting questions based on student’s prior answers. 

Building on this research, the 2024 Pearson School Report identified that:

  • 1 in 3 English teachers predict technology will improve high-stakes assessments (e.g onscreen) in the next three years.
  • 4 in 10 English teachers predict it will improve student remote / flexible learning.
  • 42% of English teachers said they would like the choice of digital and paper-based assessments.
  • 77% of secondary students said they would like the choice of digital and paper-based assessments.
  • 1 in 10 teachers said that offering both digital and paper-based assessments would be one of the top three changes they would make to positively impact education in England.

Crucially, onscreen exams mean more than students ‘just’ having the choice to use devices. In wider Pearson research, almost half of all English teachers feel that disadvantaged pupils are more likely to think that English and associated careers are not accessible or appealing, and we know that for those students with SEND or differing learning needs, English can prove challenging. 

According to the latest DfE figures, almost 1 in 5 of students in England either receive SEND support or have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. Adapting English for onscreen assessment means creating new pathways for learning that are highly valuable for this large cohort, as well as the wider school population. These accessible solutions include split-screen formats that enable students to see the reading text and its questions side by side, sticky notes for jotting down ideas in easy-read formats, adaptable font sizes and colours to help students with visual or other processing needs, and improved eye-tracking software for young people who require this to write.

More than three-quarters of secondary English teachers told us that to give students the best chance of accessing a wide range of careers, digital literacy should be incorporated into the curriculum in the next 5-10 years. Among the student population itself, 86% of all students agreed that technology plays a big role in their lives now and will continue to as they get older, so they need to be good at using it and 3 in 4 would like would like the choice of paper-based and digital assessments.     

Onscreen exams in action

Following the global pandemic, we saw accelerated innovation in many areas of education - and increased ambition for the use of technology in assessments in our schools. This hasn’t gone away.

The 2023 exam series saw a surge in demand for digital options, with 15,000 word-processed scripts submitted in GCSE English alone to support students’ access arrangements. Meanwhile, for the very first time, 2,000 students at 15 schools successfully sat their high-stakes examinations in Pearson Edexcel’s International GCSE English Language and English Literature - the result of decades of testing, continuous feedback and refining. Most notably, 100% of teachers who registered students for onscreen exams in 2022 registered their students for the 2023 onscreen exam series too. 

Indeed between 2023 and 2024, we saw a 42% uplift in the number of onscreen exams being taken. In 2023 over 10,300 GCSEs and international GCSEs were completed online with the introduction of onscreen assessment options by Pearson Edexcel in both GCSE Computer Science and International GCSE English Language A. A year later, over 14,617 GCSE and International GCSE exams were completed onscreen. 

This, in addition to more than 5,900 students who were booked to taken onscreen mocks with Pearson during the 2023/2024 academic year, demonstrates a significant shift in the integration of onscreen assessments and reflects an emerging preference for schools and students - many of whom feel increasingly ready to tap in to evidence-based successes in this area. 

Beyond English

Alongside the many schools, teachers and learners we have spoken to, we believe that the role that technology can play in low, medium and high stakes assessment will continue to grow, as will wider recognition of the positives this entails. 

Onscreen assessments won’t and shouldn’t ‘replace’ written exams, but instead will work alongside paper options to support schools, colleges and learners to succeed, build their knowledge and showcase their skills with confidence. 

Combining our experience with digital assessments with the teacher and student appetite for choice has steered our journey to date and will continue to drive us as we move forward. As technology evolves, the potential for assessments, schools and students does too. We’re excited about where the journey has already taken us, and where we are collectively heading next. 


Learn more about onscreen assessment 

If you want to learn more about onscreen assessment, visit our webpage where you can find answers to the most common questions, information about the qualifications it is currently available for, and a walkthrough of the platform.

You can also sign up for updates on onscreen assessment for GCSE English here.