In its broadest sense, e-assessment is the use of information technology for any assessment-related activity. This definition embraces a wide range of student activity ranging from the use of a word processor to on-screen testing. Due to its obvious similarity to e-learning, the term e-assessment is becoming widely used as a generic term to describe the use of computers within the assessment process.

E-assessment can be used to assess cognitive and practical abilities. Cognitive abilities are assessed using e-testing software; practical abilities are assessed using e-portfolios or simulation software.

An e-testing system comprises two components:

(1) an assessment engine; and

(2) an item bank.

An assessment engine comprises the hardware and software required to create and deliver a test. Most e-testing engines run on standard hardware so the key characteristic is the software's functionality. There is a wide range of software packages. The software does not include the questions themselves; these are provided by an item bank. Once created, the engine uses the item bank to generate a test.

The creation of the item bank is more costly and time consuming than the installation and configuration of the assessment engine. There is currently no business model to support the creation of high quality item banks. Issues such as copyright and intellectual property rights remain unresolved.

E-assessment is becoming widely used. It has many advantages over traditional (paper-based) assessment.

The advantages include:

1. lower long-term costs

2. instant feedback to students

3. greater flexibility with respect to location and timing

4. improved reliability (machine marking is much more reliable than human marking).

There are also disadvantages. E-assessment systems are expensive to establish and not suitable for every type of assessment (such as extended response questions). The main expense is not technical; it is the cost of producing high quality assessment items.

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