Usability testing of the undergraduate pages: the results

Maria Drummond
Thursday 16 February 2017

Usability testing is a method used to evaluate a product as it is developed by testing it on others. It has been used by the digital communications team in the past to gain insightful data about user experience. With the imminent launch of the new undergraduate and subject pages, conducting some usability testing allows us to see any potential design and content issues with these pages. This post looks into what was tested, and provides an overview of the users’ responses and our next steps for the pages.


Who took the tests?

In total, nine participants were tested, all were undergraduates and some were international students. The courses they studied were varied and ranged from International Relations, to Mathematics and English.

Five out of the nine participants tested the new webpages and four were the control group, who completed the test using the existing website.

Initial questions asked:

  1. When you were looking at potential university undergraduate courses, what information about the course was most important to you?
  2. How did you find out information about the course you wanted to study at St Andrews? What was this experience like?
  3. What do you like or dislike about the current University website?

Interestingly, we found that multiple participants highlighted the importance of awards and accreditations for the School and the University over course information when exploring courses as a prospective students. Participants also stated that course information, alumni and course structure were important factors when looking for courses. As we expected, some highlighted that Course Search was difficult to navigate, but overall, some participants stated that generally their experience of the website is usually positive.

Highlights from control tests

Generally, the paths control participants used to complete tasks were far more varied than for those testing the new pages. Finding information out in the control tests included using:

    • Course Search
    • School websites
    • PDF prospectuses
    • Search function
    • Study pages

The control test users found that there were many steps involved, and that the process of finding information could be simplified.

Highlights from the new pages

Overall, user experience with the new subject and undergraduate pages was improved compared with the control test users. This was largely due to key information such as fees, entry requirements and course information all being in one place on the website. This, combined with the navigation bar, helped speed up task completion.

  • One key finding from the tests was the misplacement of the ‘Modules’ section within the undergraduate course pages. Despite using the navigation bar to jump to ‘Course information’ to find out module information, four out of five participants could not find this information at first.

Typically they jumped to the ‘Course information’ section but did not scroll past the section to see if there was additional information about modules. Participants tended to double back to the subject page, and then back to the undergraduate page to try and find out this information. Reasons for this could include:

    • the full width visiting day call to action directly beneath the ‘Course information’ sections. (Which could appear as the ‘end’ of the section)
    • the nav bar not containing a ‘Modules’ tab.
    • participants not expecting modules information to appear underneath the ‘Teaching’ section. (One participant explicitly said this was the case).
  • Another key issue we noticed was that all four participants who used the new undergraduate pages to complete the tasks did not initially use the ‘Joint options’ tab in the navigation bar straight away.

Many went back to the subject page to try and find the information there. Perhaps they were expecting to see a “Management and Philosophy” course. However, once they found their way back to the undergraduate page, they noticed the ‘Joint options’ tab. One participant expected joint Honours information to be under ‘Course information’.


Going forward, the digicomms team are going to reassess the positioning of the module information within the undergraduate pages. This may be rectified by providing a ‘Modules’ tab in the navigation bar, or by moving the section closer to ‘Course information’ in all undergraduate pages.

Another area to reconsider is joint Honours information. Namely how it is presented to students. Perhaps a content link to the joint Honours section needs to be inserted under ‘Course information’.  Another option is to make any text associated with joint Honours more noticeable, either through formatting or using alert boxes.

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