Optical mark recognition (OMR) is a technology for electronically extracting data from marked fields, such as checkboxes and fill-in fields, on printed forms. OMR technology once required specifically-designed scanners to interpret filled-out forms, but now OMR software makes the process easier and cheaper. Gravic, Inc, premiered one of the first OMR scanning and reading software solutions in 1991. OMR is not the same as character or handwriting recognition; it primarily reads sheets with filled holes or boxes.

Uses of OMR technology

Probably the best-known use of optical mark recognition is in standardized testing. Students fill in holes with a pen or pencil that correspond to yes/no or multiple choice questions. The machines then scan the test sheets to derive data and scores from them. OMR has many other uses as well:

  • Elections and vote-counting
  • Tracking business products in inventory
  • Collecting data from surveys
  • Collecting data from research questions and studies
  • Tracking time and work records

OMR is useful for collecting and managing large amounts of data to gain answers to questions, record many small details, or analyze a population’s knowledge.

How does OMR software work?

A standard scanner goes over every marked sheet and records the data in files that OMR software can read. The software then analyzes the data based on its programming. Some software solutions may have specialized features for reading and categorizing data, depending on the type of form, the industry, or the use case of the form. Some OMR software have options for exporting read data to another platform (like a document that can be printed or another application) so that it can be displayed or further analyzed.

OMR is generally a reliable and useful technology. Though it’s rare for it to fail, there is a chance that the software could scan a page more than once if not programmed specifically enough.

OMR software is a popular solution because it’s much less expensive and time-consuming than the previous versions of scanning and reading OMR forms, which included hardware and specific paper. It requires much less manual maintenance, and it reduces some of the lag in scanning and processing by doing it digitally.


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Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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