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Considerations for Online Exams and Assessments

While some components of your face-to-face courses might have transferred into the online environment with relatively minor adjustments, some assessments, like traditional paper exams that students take in class, will not translate directly into a virtual space. Specifically, the strategies you used to prevent cheating and otherwise preserve the integrity of the exam will not work in the same ways they worked in a face-to-face setting.

It is understandable that test integrity is a major concern; stakeholders need to be sure that a student’s exam answers are indeed their own. The point of all assessment is to measure what a student knows and can do, in most cases without the assistance of resource materials or peers. But in this new virtual learning environment where web-connected devices are as ubiquitous as No. 2 pencils, how can we know that student performance on an assessment reflects their honest mastery of skills and knowledge and not just how good they are at googling the answer or phoning-a-friend? It’s worthwhile considering strategies tools and that can help us create and administer more secure assessments.

Quick Tips & Strategies for Transitioning Traditional Exams

Open book, limited time: Rather than fight the impossible battle of trying to restrict access to resources like lecture slides, textbook chapters, or even the internet, use settings in Moodle to limit the time students have to take the exam. It’s good to communicate transparently to students that they will not have time to look up every answer, so they will have to study beforehand to be successful.

Randomize Questions: Moodle offers the option to use “random questions” in the Quiz tool. Instructors create extra questions for each section, organize them in categories in the Quiz bank, and then the Quiz tool will choose a question randomly from the category. This way all students are assessed on the same content, but each student gets a different version of the exam.

Adjust the weight of the exam: Every program and course is different, but if you have collected or will collect other work from students that gives you information about their learning (essays, summaries, lab reports, online discussions, presentations, etc.), you might be able to make the exam worth a smaller percentage of the overall course grade. That way, even if students have a bit more “help” available when they take the exam than you would prefer, you have other assessments that you can consult to evaluate their actual achievement in the course.

A Different Approach to Assessment Integrity

Ultimately, we want to know that students are acquiring the knowledge and skills that we have agreed to teach them; we want to know that they will be effective scholars and practitioners when we send them on to the next course or out into the world. It can be valuable, then, to return to the learning goals we have identified and to consider this question: How (or how else) can my students demonstrate to me that they have learned what I set out to teach them?

One great way is to design assessments that ask students to operate at higher levels of critical thinking, like application, analysis, and evaluation. Multiple choice questions can be graded automatically and so require less time from teachers, but they only measure the most basic levels of understanding. Asking students to answer a few long-answer prompts that require application and integration of concepts and content can give us a more complete and accurate idea of a student’s true learning. These kinds of assessments take longer to grade, but we can have more trust in the accuracy of the information we get from them.

Asking students to reflect on their learning is another kind of assessment that elicits critical thinking on multiple levels and gives us more nuanced information about student learning. We can ask questions like: “Why did you choose the answer you chose?” “Explain your thinking.” “Evaluate your study/preparation process. What would you do differently next time?” These kinds of questions provide the added benefit of engaging students in metacognition, a valuable skill for both immediate and life-long learning.

Monitoring Software and Lockdown Browser

There are not many free or low cost apps or tools that can be easily configured to effectively proctor or monitor an exam or quiz. Pacific does subscribe to Lockdown Browser for proctored in-person exams (students in a classroom with an instructor physically present), delivered through Moodle. When Lockdown Browser is applied to a quiz, the student cannot navigate away from the browser window during the exam. However, it’s important to note that this only locks down a single device. If Lockdown Browser is used for an exam taken remotely, the student will likely have multiple internet-connected devices at their fingertips, in which case, using this software will not be very effective at preventing the student from looking up answers on the web or calling or texting others for help.

Several programs at Pacific have come up with creative strategies using multiple platforms or paid services to provide remote proctoring for high stakes exams that are integral to their program. However, for individual classes, it is not generally worth the time, effort, or cost for the students or the professor to go to these lengths. In these cases, rethinking and redesigning assessments is a better route to go.

Some Further Resources:

To see what other institutions have to say about the question of remote exams and assessments, take a look at these resources:

If you want to talk through any of these ideas, please feel free to get in touch with us at

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