Online and Hybrid Exams

While on-campus courses commonly utilize quizzes and exams to assess student learning, it can be challenging to give a traditional exam under non-traditional circumstances (Flynn & Kerr, 2020). As with other assessment options, transitioning exams online may require minor to substantial adjustments to maintain validity, reliability, and fairness. This page outlines several common approaches to giving online and hybrid exams, including design considerations and technical set up in Moodle. These are non-exhaustive, and can be adjusted to accommodate discipline and course-specific needs. 

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Open Book Exams

Timed or Live Exams

Exam Alternatives

General Exam Considerations

When designing an exam for an online or hybrid course, it may be helpful to first circle back to your course's learning goals. What is the purpose of the exam? What skills or knowledge is the exam testing? With the answers to these questions in mind, here are some general considerations. 

Format. A wide variety of factors influence traditional exam format, including purpose, learning goals, student learning preferences, workload and grading needs. In addition to all of these considerations, the online and hybrid environment introduces new constraints, and some traditional exam formats may transition online better than others. The University of Edinburgh has developed a good overview of the pros/ cons of moving each format online.

Timing. To ensure that the timing allows students to complete the exam, it may also be appropriate to adjust time limits. It is important to keep in mind that some students experience test anxiety, which can increase in online settings. Others may not be accustomed to taking exams on a computer (Kadakia and Bradshaw, 2020). While, in the past, strict time limits have been proposed as a way to limit e-cheating, researchers have demonstrated that this may not be as effective as previously thought and may not be worth the significant tradeoffs for stress, workload, and equity (Dawson, 2020).

Flexibility. With any chosen exam format and timing, we would recommend designing with flexibility in mind. This provides students with some choice with how and when they take the exam to ensure that environmental barriers do not hinder their performance (UDL on Campus). Additionally, designing a format and timing upfront that works for all students can minimize the need to adjudicate individual cases when problems occur during or after the exam. Flexibility with format and timing does not require relaxing standards for content and achievement; rather, it is about ensuring all students have the ability to demonstrate what they know and can do. 

​​Technology. Some approaches to online testing are higher tech and more resource-intensive than others. Consider technological constraints and barriers in the online environment, especially for your current group of students. Some students may be located in different time zones or have limited or slow Internet access. Even if students are present in Vienna or Budapest, Internet can be overloaded and slow, or a computer may crash. Often, simplicity can be the best solution.

Academic Integrity. Consider ways to design and administer exams that promote academic integrity and minimize e-cheating. While research shows that a vast majority of students do not cheat, it is helpful to be mindful of and correct gaps in assessments (Dawson, 2020). Strategies such as randomizing test questions, creating large question banks, and designing questions that require higher order thinking can reduce instances of e-cheating, but it is important to note that none of these are perfect. 

Collaboration. Talk with other faculty in your department or program when considering re-designing in-person exams. Because online and hybrid courses require us to think of assessment in new ways and take advantage of being online (UPenn CTL), it may be beneficial to pool resources or re-design assessments on a larger scale.

Hybrid Note: Administering exams in hybrid courses may be a challenge, especially if remote students are attending in diverse time zones. To ensure that assessments are fair, Sara Tahir and colleagues (2021) recommend designing exams for the students who will most likely be disadvantaged in an assessment scenario. Often, this means designing the exam online, even if most students are attending in-person.

Open Book Exams

It might be useful to think of your exam as 'take-home' or 'open-book' and re-design it in this sense. Open book exams should require students to answer in more critical and analytical ways: we test the ability of students to find and use information for problem-solving and to apply knowledge. Take-home exams allow time for reflection and thus can promote higher-order thinking skills (Bengtsson, 2019). To this end, the exam questions should not be generic but rather ask students to apply, analyze, synthesize, compare and contrast or evaluate information. For instance, you can 

  • ​​​​​​design essay questions where students need to compare and contrast cases or problem sets using specific texts you discussed during the course. 
  • ask students to give examples of their own (e.g., from their own research) to illustrate and apply concepts or to analyze a process. 
  • ask students to apply certain concepts or solve problems based on a provided scenario or a hypothetical situation. 
  • ask students to explain something (e.g., a theory or model) using different kinds of examples, cases, or texts. 
  • present students with data and ask them to analyze and interpret them in a certain context or using a particular model.
  • ask students to interpret output of certain statistical tests in a given context. 

Additionally, it is important to be clear about the rules for the exam. You should let students know when the exam window will open and close, and how long they have to take the exam. For example, you might open the exam for a 48-hour window to provide flexibility to students in diverse timezones, but set a time limit of 3 hours. You might also specify if collaboration is allowed, what sources may be used, and how you would like students to reference answers. A page or word limit for answers can clarify the expected level of depth.

Pros
  • Encourages higher order thinking and reflection
  • More flexibility for students (e.g. timezones, access to Internet)
  • Lower-tech and less resource intensive than other approaches

Cons

  • Not suitable for questions that can be easily searched online
  • Harder to ensure exam rules were followed (e.g. collaborating with peers)
  • May take longer to grade

Technical Set Up

An open-book exam can be set up in Moodle as an Assignment. This feature allows for an extended submission timeframe (for example, a window of 48 hours). When the exam window opens, students can download prompts and then submit their responses in a Word Document or PDF before the deadline. TurnItIn can be enabled to screen student submissions for Internet sources or another student's answers. For individual Moodle support, contact Gábor Ács (acsg@ceu.edu).

Timed or Live Exams

It is also possible to administer an exam during a live online or hybrid class session, although it is important to account for potential logistic challenges and equity issues. It is recommended to let students know about the exam requirements in the syllabus, including mandatory software, equipment, and dates or times. This will allow students who are unable to meet these requirements to work out alternative arrangements with you or to drop the course. For moving online mid-semester, consider polling students to ensure that they have access to the equipment needed or offer an alternative. Additionally, it may be useful to set up a practice exam. This gives students the opportunity to test their technical set up and to resolve any issues before the actual exam. This can reduce anxiety about the format and the need for troubleshooting on exam day.

CEU does not contract university-wide with a remote proctoring service, and there is limited research-based evidence of this technology's effectiveness in deterring e-cheating (Dawson, 2020). It is possible to proctor a live exam in Zoom by asking online students to share their screens and turn on their cameras, but this may not be feasible for all students and can add to increased cognitive load and anxiety. Instead, whenever possible, consider strategies such as

  • creating larger question banks (2-3x) for multiple choice and short answer questions so that each student's exam will be unique.
  • scrambling the question order and the answers within each multiple choice question. When scrambling answer choices, replace "all of the above" answers with an option such as "all of these."
  • modifying exam questions that have been taken verbatim from publisher test banks so that they are more difficult to search.
  • updating exam questions from semester to semester.
  • incorporating essay or short-answer questions that encourage students to demonstrate their thinking (see above).


Pros
  • Exam requirements may be easier to enforce (e.g. time limits, no collaboration).
  • The instructor is "live" to answer questions as students are taking the exam.
  • Auto-grading is possible.

Cons

  • Less flexibility for students (e.g. timezones, access)
  • Potentially higher tech, more resource intensive than other approaches.
  • Proctoring is more invasive than other approaches.

Technical Set Up

Use the "Quiz" feature in Moodle to set up a timed exam. You can create a variety of question formats, including multiple choice, short answer, and essay. You can also specify when the exam will open and close for students. When setting the exam availability, consider adding in a few extra minutes to account for opening the exam and trouble-shooting.

For individual Moodle support, contact Gábor Ács (acsg@ceu.edu). Faculty can connect with IT Classroom Support (classroomsupport@ceu.edu) for questions regarding Zoom set up.

Exam Alternatives

Exams are one assessment strategy among many, including those of which have been specifically designed to capture the best of online and blended learning environments. Visit the the Elkana Center's Online & Hybrid Assessments page to learn about more options for assessing student learning in online and hybrid courses.