Accounting Professional Training (APT) prepares students in South Africa for careers in business. So it knows a thing or two about numbers.
APT’s mission is to strive for excellence in the accountancy profession, providing professional programs that enable students to qualify as Chartered Accountants. The company is South Africa’s leading presenter of preparation courses for the SAICA (South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) Examination. It has operated successfully in the South African market for 16 years, as well as within Zimbabwe and Namibia.
When APT looked at the number of students, exam factors, and grading personnel involved in its manual grading effort, it knew something had to change. So it set out to digitize and mobilize the process. That led APT to adopt the AppSheet platform.
More than 2,000 students take four APT exams annually. Each of those tests require individuals to complete eight or more tasks.
When they’re done, 50 to 100 people located throughout South Africa grade the tests. In the process, APT’s grading team members provide students with detailed feedback about their responses.
Traditionally, APT has used couriers to collect student tests, distribute them to graders through the country, fetch the graded documents, and then send them to students for their review across South Africa. The problem: an inefficient process with lots of opportunities for errors.
“It was a logistical nightmare to get the results for students,” explained Husain Coovadia, an APT course presenter. So Husain and APT set out to find a better way to manage and test grading processes.
Husain’s first move was to employ Google Sheets. That allowed APT to centralize document management so it could more easily distribute and collect the tests to and from its graders.
But APT sought even greater efficiency.
So Husain searched for an expanded solution that would work well with Google Drive, which he wanted to use. After some research, he discovered AppSheet.
Today the AppSheet platform powers two APT apps.
The Grader App
The first app facilitates the grading process as well as provides live data for analysis such as grader consistency.
When APT brings graders onboard, it asks them to grade a sample test. That way APT can make sure its graders have the skills they need to accurately grade student tests. If they don’t, APT provides them with further training until graders meet the required benchmarks.
Graders also use this app to grade actual student exams.
The fact that everything is digitized eliminates a lot of error, Husain says. He explains that grading on paper and then having to enter that information in an Excel file was cumbersome. Graders would sometimes put an entry in the wrong column or row, leading to discrepancies and a number of hours spent reconciling errors.
“The students are your customers at the end of the day,” says Husain. “And we don’t want to make those errors.”
Digitizing the process also makes it easier for graders to receive and return tests no matter where they might be. That’s helpful considering APT employs between 50 to 100 graders around the country in each grading session.
The app also provides APT with a view of grading as it happens. It can see test averages, what questions were answered poorly by students, and more, says Husain. This real-time view is a nice feature that provides insight that would not necessarily be available in a manual process.
It took 10 to 12 months to get the first app, which launched last summer, running at an optimal level. This app was somewhat challenging due to all the different formulas and tasks involved. Adding to that complexity was the fact that APT wanted to configure the app so individual graders would only see the tests they were supposed to grade.
But Husain says AppSheet experts provided the necessary guidance via email communications so he could accomplish his goals with the app.
The Student App
APT’s other AppSheet-powered app takes all the information from the first app and passes it on to the students.
This app provides each student with a grade. Students also get information about several indicators for each of their answers. For example, if a question asks the student to discuss revenue, the app signifies whether the grader marked them as not discussing revenue, discussing revenue, or discussing revenue in depth.
Students can also use the app to review graders’ written feedback specific to their answers. In the past, students sometimes struggled to read graders’ handwriting. But with the AppSheet-powered app, feedback is keyed in, so reading the handwritten comments is no longer an issue.
The app also presents students with a summary of their grades. That offers insight on where they excelled and where they did not.
Allowing students to access their grades and grader comments via the app is also helpful because students receive timely feedback.
Husain says launching this student app was no easy feat either. But he adds that AppSheet went as far as developing a new feature for its platform to meet APT’s needs. And after about four months, he was able to take the app live.
The challenge here was the sheer number of students accessing the app with large data sets at the same time.
Today as many as 2,400 APT students have been able to successfully use the app simultaneously. But before launch, when Husain was testing the app with 200 students, only 10 or 15 students were able to open their results. The app delivered an error message saying there was too much data to read.
So Husain sent AppSheet a screenshot of the problem. And AppSheet responded by creating the Worksheet Bulk Read feature, which allowed the app to contend with all the tasks, indicators, and students in APT’s database. Together with Husain this feature was tested on numerous occasions.
“Once enabled I tested it with 200 students, and it worked,” says Husain. “Then Appsheet ran a stress test for me, and it was able to read 1,000 results in a minute or something like that.”