Schools with computer labs and Internet connections may consider administering the placement test online. This saves on paper both for Answer Sheets and Question Papers.
Your intakes may currently be far too large for use of your computer lab during test day. Also familiarity with use of computers (e.g. the mouse or keyboard) may influence the results among older learners, but we are entering an age where keyboard and mouse skills can nearly be taken for granted, certainly among the age-groups that most commonly attend English Language Schools. The shortcomings of "objective tests" mean that "an oral interview" (i.e. a subjective testing technique) should count towards the final assessment in a perfect world.
However, if you are using objective tests such as single answer Multiple Choice Formats, it is important to realise that they can easily be marked mechanically, given an adequate number of computers, with no waste of paper. The teacher/tester time saved will then give you time and opportunity for running oral interviews before quickly getting learners into classes at the right level. Even free composition where students write about themselves, their interests, their reasons for learning English, why they have come to an English-speaking country etc., can be checked by computer. If you are doing this, I suggest that learners complete any free composition using a simple text editor. Teachers can then paste students' open input into a word-processing program such as MS WORD, which will grammar-check and spell-check very quickly. It is fundamental that teachers read what is written and earmark errors that need attention in order to get to know their students, since they (not the machines) are going to do the bulk of the teaching.
Many learners go on study holidays to escape their offices and computers and expect a bit of human input. Nevertheless, the reality is that learning languages on home computers is becoming ever increasingly viable.
Hot Potatoes Software Suite created by Martin Holmes caters for popular test formats such as Gap-Fill, Multiple Choice, Matching and Jumbled Sentences. This software suite also allows to to develop your own self-correcting crosswords.
The Internet TESL Journal also welcomes contributions from teachers and test developers and can convert your test data to run interactively.
John Shelley is a principal examiner for the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate, which administers a number of examinations in computer literacy as well as English as a Second Language (including the Cambridge First Certificate in English). He has a Masters degree in Computing at Imperial College, London, where he has worked and lectured.