Online Quizzes/Exams

by MU Instructional Designers
September 15, 2021
5-7 min read

Use application level questions.

Make quizzes/exams meaningful.

As with any assessment, it’s important to be clear about why students are doing this. Is it to check understanding of key concepts before moving forward into higher order activities like application and analysis? Is it to check that students can apply new concepts or skills? Is it to prepare for a high stakes formal exam, such as for licensure? Articulating the relevance of your quiz/exam will clarify goals and also increase authenticity.

A best practice for online quizzes/exams is to design them to be open-book/open-note, better suiting the online learning environment where students are working from home (Hill, ed, 2010; Palloff & Pratt, 2013). This is done by assessing with more application-level questions or leveraging time limits so that students don’t have time to look up all answers. Open-book/open-note assessments are not practical for every situation, but it can avoid many potential academic integrity issues as well as provide authenticity as most real-world environments include easy access to recall-level information.

Set clear expectations.

Set clear expectations.

When creating online exams, it’s very important to articulate expectations regarding academic integrity and testing conditions.  When writing exam instructions, be sure to note whether or not students are able to refer to notes or the text while taking an exam. Here are a few example blurbs that can be placed in test instructions — feel free to adapt and use them as desired:

  • “You may reference any course materials or internet resources while taking this quiz. However, this quiz must be completed independently (without assistance from peers or others).”
  • “This is a closed-book/closed note exam. You are not permitted to access any other resources while completing this exam. Please note that Canvas records any navigation away from the exam screen.”

Include a variety of question types (including media, when appropriate).

Include a variety of question types (including media, when appropriate).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies encourage use of different question types so that learners have more than one way to demonstrate mastery of content. Multiple choice, true/false, matching, short answer and essay are all options. Using media like audio and video for question content provides alternative ways of representing the question.

Ask students to show their work.

One of the big questions, particularly for those teaching in the maths and sciences, is how to collect “show your work”-type content that is normally found on paper exams in the F2F classroom. There are a couple of different approaches like File Upload Questions, Take-Home Tests, and 3rd Party Apps that can be explored. Regardless of the method, we highly recommend that a practice quiz is completed earlier in the semester using the method chosen so students can practice without the stress of the actual exam.

Ask students to respond orally.

When students are taking online exams you have more options to assess their learning. Instead of typing in answers or selecting from multiple choice, students can respond to questions verbally within the test time frame (don’t forget to make accommodations when applicable). You can create an essay question and students can respond verbally in Canvas.

These take longer to grade, but they can be great for students who do a better job of explaining their understanding verbally rather than in writing. Also, it’s pretty hard to cheat because these questions tend to be more open-ended (e.g. questions that start with “explain,” “analyze,” “describe,” or “compare”) and you can’t copy and paste an audio response.

Provide options for feedback and reflection.

Provide options for feedback and reflection.

You can set up the test to provide auto feedback for MC, T/F, etc. questions to let students know what areas may need review. This approach takes more time up front, but less time after the test results are released to students. It’s especially useful when checking understanding of foundational concepts.

When you give more detailed feedback on papers or essays you may want to use audio comments for overall feedback to convey your tone. Specific comments should still be text so student have them for reference.

Design reflection opportunities that encourage students to reflect on the process of preparing for and completing an exam, activating metacognitive skills. This can take the form of an exam wrapper, where students use self-assessment to identify knowledge gaps and develop a study strategy to improve results or an exam autopsy, where students combine self-assessment, feedback from the professor and feedback from peers. It may also reduce test anxiety, when students can see how to prepare for a better result next time. (UDL checkpoint 9.3).

Leverage test settings and conditions to promote academic integrity.

Leverage test settings and conditions to promote academic integrity.

There are several settings and strategies you can use to promote academic integrity. Using a timed exam, scrambling question order and/or answers or using a question bank are some good options. For details on how to set this up in Canvas check out the Canvas: Exams/Quizzes article in the ITS blog.


Hill, C. (2010). Student authentication: What are your duties under the HEA Reauthorization? Faculty Focus Special Report: Promoting Academic Integrity in Online Education, 10-11.

Palloff R. M. & & Pratt, K. (2013). Lessons from the virtual classroom: The realities of online teaching (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

To learn more about the research on online quizzes/exams, check out our annotated bibliography.

For more technical help with creating and facilitating online in Canvas, check out Canvas: Exam/Quiz Settings on our ITS Blog.