The Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations board (OCR) demonstrated its computer-based assessment system at BETT 2000.

Running as a pilot project at 19 centres, the system assesses exam papers via an extranet (an intranet with secure outside access). Currently assessing OCR's Word Processing courses, this scheme goes live at all OCR centres from September 2000.

OCR will launch a pilot scheme for its Computer Literacy and Information Technology qualification in April. The exam boards assistant director of vocational assessment Mary Bennett said: "In the future we may even see a 24 hour, online-assessment and results service for some qualifications."

Advanced technology, using artificial intelligence, is used to mark the tests. The OCR assessor compares a "solutions file" to the candidate's script, this automatically assesses the script, marking it up against assessment objectives. When the process is complete, results are processed and returned to the centre via the extranet.

Patrick Craven, of OCR, said: "We are providing a model for computer-based assessment of any competence-based qualification. The technology can already be applied to most knowledge-based, multiple-choice and objective tests."

OCR's software not only assesses the answers given, but the steps taken to arrive at them. This gives a clear method of assessing not just knowledge, but also technical skill.

In the future, expect to see online exams for a myriad of topics. Maths and Physics exams are candidates for likely online development. The potential exists for the gradual development of international exam standards, available through exam centres world-wide.

In related news, OCR revealed that take-up of its Computer Literacy and Information Technology award had risen to record levels, reaching 335,000 candidates during 1999.