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Pupils to sit computer science GCSE online for the first time

Students use laptops
Exam board OCR is to offer a digitally-assessed GCSE in computer science for pupils starting their course in 2025, in what it described as a UK first - Ben Birchall/PA

Pupils are to sit a GCSE exam fully on screen for the first time, an exam board has announced.

Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations board (OCR) said it will offer a digitally-assessed GCSE in computer science for pupils starting their course in 2025.

Jill Duffy, chief executive of OCR, said a pilot of digital exams showed students “appreciate being able to type rather than hand write their answers, seeing word counts and timers as they progress”.

She said that digital exams bring “greater clarity to the marking progress” and are “far closer to real industry and further study experiences”.

The exam board said schools can still opt for a paper-based assessment for the OCR computer science qualification if they prefer or do not have the digital infrastructure in place.

OCR said 88,350 students took the computer science GCSE in 2023, a 12 per cent year-on-year increase.

In the new digitally-assessed GCSE, students will be able to write code and be assessed on it.

‘Closer to the real world’

Computer scientist Professor Simon Peyton Jones, engineering fellow at Fortnite creators Epic Games, said: “It’s no surprise that so many young people want to study and work in computing.”

“From generative AI to gaming, there is a vast range of fulfilling opportunities.

“Digital assessment makes particular sense for computer science: it brings assessment closer to the real world and will allow young people to demonstrate their capabilities more authentically.”

More online exams to follow

More exams are expected to be conducted on computers in the future. In England, students have been taking digital mocks in OCR’s GCSE computer science for a year, with GCSE English mocks added this month.

Outside the UK, Cambridge International is offering on-screen mocks for IGCSE and A-level science subjects, with several other subjects launching in 2024.

Meanwhile, exam board AQA is aiming to roll out on-screen exams over a period of years and it hopes that students will sit at least one major subject digitally by 2030.

The reading and listening components of GCSE Italian and Polish would be the first to move to digital exams in 2026, according to proposals by the exam board.

Tom Middlehurst, Association of School and College Leaders assessment specialist, said: “We welcome this important step in moving from pen-and-paper exams towards the use of digital assessment. This clearly makes perfect sense for Computer Science GCSE but also paves the way for other subjects, giving students the opportunity to type scripts, making it easier for examiners to mark them, and reducing the reliance on the industrial-scale operation and carbon footprint of printing and transporting millions of exam papers.”

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