Options for Delivering Exams via Virtual Instruction

As you consider your options for delivering exams while teaching virtually, remember to exhibit equity, kindness, generosity and patience with your students.

There are several options for you to rethink or deliver your exams via virtual instruction. You may want to consider one or multiple of these recommendations.


Think "authentic"

What do you want students to be able to do by the end of your course? What skill should they have or knowledge attained? Try to design an assessment that measures that skill or knowledge.

Think "meaningful"

How can your assessment be a learning experience in itself? How could the process of completing the assessment give students a deeper understanding of the material and concepts?

Think "practical"

What kind of assessment could you efficiently create? How many students do you have, how many would you have to grade? Can rubrics assist and guide your assessment?


Alternatives to Traditional Exams

Instead of using a formal examination, consider other ways that you could assess whether students have met the course objectives.


  • Have students complete a paper, project, or digital poster instead of taking an exam
  • Present deep, complex cases for students to analyze and respond to in narrative format, identifying problems, describing alternatives, and recommending solutions
  • Opt for short answer questions that are quick to review and grade
  • Have students demonstrate performance: create videos, photographs, presentations that demonstrate knowledge and skill

Because it may be difficult to restrict students from using other resources while they are taking an exam, you could think of it as an open book or take home exam.

  • Create exam questions that exercise higher-order thinking skills, such as asking students to apply a technique or sample information in a new situation, or to analyze a set of data.
  • Give students more complex scenarios to solve than you would ordinarily require for an exam.
  • Set clear expectations for students about what materials are allowed or prohibited.

When you have to adjust your schedule or approach mid-semester, you may be concerned about how students will respond to the changes and whether they will be able to complete the assessment. One strategy is to give students control of their assessments by offering multiple ways they could demonstrate their learning and allowing them to choose which method is best for them.

  • Offer students the option to take an exam or complete another type of assignment or project.
  • Provide students with the same task but allow them to choose the medium they use, such as writing a report, creating a presentation, or making a video.
  • When possible, provide alternatives that allow students to be successful even if they have limited technology, without having to ask you for special treatment.

Having students deliver presentations online is a great assessment strategy, whether that was your original plan for your face-to-face course or an alternative assessment in lieu of an exam. Students can deliver presentations live, or they can record a presentation to share with you and their classmates.

Some tools to consider for students to deliver presentations:

  • Blackboard Collaborate: Students can meet together virtually and deliver their presentation using Blackboard Collaborate.
  • VoiceThread: Students can upload their PowerPoint slides to VoiceThread and record audio over them, then share the VoiceThread with you and their classmates. Use VoiceThread (Graded), enable evaluation, and then use the Assignment Builder to require that students create their own VoiceThread.
  • Kaltura Capture: Students can record any material on their screen, like a PowerPoint presentation, Word document, or software program, and narrate with audio as they deliver their presentation.

It requires creativity to alter performance-based assessments for virtual instruction. This category includes dance, theater, and musical performances along with other physical skills, like athletics, laboratory procedures, and medical techniques.

Some strategies you might consider:

  • Use an objective assessment with multiple choice, matching, or similar questions to assess whether students can identify the right skill to use in specific circumstances.
  • Ask students to analyze a technique or performance being demonstrated by someone else, using an image or a video (keeping in mind that this would not be accessible for someone with a visual disability) using an objective assessment or an open-ended assignment.
  • Meet with students as a group or individually using web conferencing tools, like Blackboard Collaborate, and use the web cam and audio to watch students perform the skill.
  • Have students record themselves or take photographs using a smartphone while performing the skill and submit the video or image in a Blackboard Assignment.
  • If specialized equipment is required that would only be available at NIU’s campus, work with your Department Chair and academic leadership to determine whether there is a way to have students complete the assessment in person and on campus.

Technology to Build and Deliver Exams

The best choice is to use Blackboard Tests to deliver exams. Blackboard Tests can include a wide variety of question types, including objective and open-ended questions. Many question types are automatically-graded, such as multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and matching. You can also include short answer and essay questions for open-ended questions. Blackboard Tests can include a timer, which can be extended for students with accommodation needs, and can be limited to a single attempt or allow multiple attempts.

You control if and when students see their results, including which questions they got correct, the answer they submitted, and the correct answer (if applicable).

You can easily view a single student's results, view aggregate results for all students in the course, or run an Item Analysis report to view additional statistics for the exam.

NIU provides access to Qualtrics for all faculty, staff, and students. You can enable scoring on a survey to make it a test with multiple choice, matrix, slider, or text entry (fill-in-the-blank) question types. The test can be delivered to students via a single anonymous link or distributed via email invitations. Be aware that Qualtrics surveys delivered via email are often routed to the Junk folder in Outlook, and you may need to direct students to look for the email there. You can choose whether to display the results to students.

NIU's license of Office 365 includes the use of Microsoft Forms, which can be used to deliver a quiz. Question types include Choice, Text, Rating, Ranking, and File Upload. You can send the Form as a single link or via individual emails to students. You can view the results online or download to analyze in Excel.

Supporting Academic Integrity in Online Exams

If you use online exams, there are several steps you can take that can promote academic integrity.

  • Ask students to type or agree to an honor statement that asserts that they did not use prohibited sources and that the work is their own
  • Randomize question order (and possible answers, if multiple choice)
  • Add a timer to the test
  • Limit the number of possible attempts
  • Be strategic with when students are able to view the correct answers (ideally, correct answers will only display once all students in the course have finished the test)
  • For an exam delivered in Blackboard, use large question pools and have Blackboard assign a random set of questions for each student

Using Online Proctoring for Exams

Remote proctoring can provide a more secure testing environment, but there are some significant considerations you need to address before adopting online proctoring.

What is Proctoring?

Online proctoring is a process whereby students take a proctored exam online. Exams can be proctored synchronously (a live proctor supervises the exam in real time) or asynchronously (a video of the student taking the exam is recorded and reviewed for compliance). Online proctoring services can be used to verify the identity of students prior to completing an online exam and to promote academic integrity while students complete an online exam.

Considerations for Proctoring

  • Who will pay for proctoring?
    Online proctoring pricing varies widely. Depending on the solution, online proctoring can cost between $3-$60 per hour.  However, there are some proctoring vendors who have offered discounted or free services, though these services are therefore experiencing much higher load. In addition, the Higher Learning Commission prohibits the university from requiring students to pay fees for course delivery if they are not specified when the students register for the course.
  • Do students have the technology necessary?
    Proctoring requires a laptop or desktop computer, as opposed to a smartphone or tablet, and reliable Internet access. In addition, proctoring requires having a webcam for the software to monitor the student
  • Is the invasion of privacy necessary?
    Using proctoring requires that students allow themselves and their environment to be recorded for you to review. Their environment may not be very private, either, so this may involve recording their children, family members, or friends. This is a significant invasion of their privacy, at a time when they are feeling vulnerable due to the disruption to their lives. While the proctoring services are secure and safe, think about whether that invasion is necessary at this time.
  • Do students have the necessary Internet access?
    Most proctoring tools require a strong, reliable Internet signal. Loss of connection during a proctored exam will often terminate the proctoring session (as a test integrity policy), requiring students to contact their faculty for accommodation and reschedule the exam session.
  • Will students be able to create a secure environment?
    Most proctoring relies on automated analysis of the audio and video that is recorded while the student completes the exam. They need a physical space that is quiet and free of interruptions, such as other people talking or moving. The student would also need to be able to avoid looking away from the screen for the duration of the exam, as this is interpreted as looking at prohibited materials, like a textbook. Consider whether your students have the ability to find or create such as space in their current living situation.
  • Can faculty help students troubleshoot Proctoring issues?
    Most proctoring services offer end-user support, though in times of high demand, students may not be able to reach support personnel in a timely fashion. In these cases, faculty may be called on to assist students with technology and other proctoring issues.  Because the issues are often specific to vendor systems, in many cases neither DoIT nor faculty may be able to address student issues.
  • Will students be uninterrupted?
    If students are currently caring for children or other family members, will they be able to complete the exam without leaving the computer? A student who would need to step away briefly to help a child would be flagged as an integrity violation.

Proctoring Vendors

NIU has established agreements with two proctoring vendors and is working with a third to make them available for NIU courses.

Respondus Monitor is a proctoring solution that is built upon an in-person proctoring solution called Respondus Browser. Respondus Browser is a proprietary web browser (i.e. an alternative to Chrome, Firefox, etc.) that strictly limits students' ability to do anything but take an exam in the browser/PC.  Monitor adds an automated proctoring service to the Respondus Browser in place of the in-person proctor.  The University has an existing relationship with Respondus, so is able to take advantage of an offer of free use of Respondus Monitor.  While free and functional, Respondus Monitor is particularly susceptible to technical, software, and Internet connectivity issues. Daily online training sessions are available and highly encouraged for any faculty considering use of Respondus.

Examity also offers two primary solutions, live proctoring and fully automated proctoring. The cost for Examity proctored exam ranges from $4 for a basic, fully automated exam to $15 per hour for live proctoring.  Examity does not appear to be offering any discounts currently.  Examity was recently selected by an academic unit to replace ProctorU.

ProctorU offers two solutions that work at NIU, live proctoring and a hybrid live/automated proctoring. The cost ranges from $10-$60 per hour per exam depending on the length and type of exam.  They do not appear to be currently offering any discounts.  NIU does have an active contract with ProctorU.  Service and support have been an issue, with at least one academic unit moving away from ProctorU in Fall 2020.

Learn more about each online proctoring tool available at NIU.

Get Help

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595
Email: citl@niu.edu

Back to top