Whether you’re teaching an online course or want to streamline your on-campus lectures, online exams are the perfect tool. If you’re new to teaching online, however, you might be overwhelmed by the process and wondering how to make sure your exams are optimized for online use. And, even if you’re a more seasoned online instructor, you’re likely seeking a few new ideas to improve your online assessments.

What’s Different Online? 

For a successful online assessment, you don’t need exam questions that are different than what you’d need for in-person proctoring — you may just need a few more of them. The main difference is how you’ll present the questions. Whether you’re writing your first or your thirtieth online exam, these tips will help you get started.

1. Provide a Practice Test

No matter how long you’ve been teaching online, it’s important to remember that online testing may be new to your students. And, even if they’ve taken exams online before, they may be new to the platform your school is using or might need a refresher after the summer break. Practice tests are a great way to make sure they know the process, get everyone on the same page and set expectations for assessments in your course. 

When creating your practice test, be sure to use settings and questions that are similar to what you’ll use for actual tests and quizzes. If students will be timed, time the practice quiz. If you’ll be including both multiple-choice and essay questions, use both on the practice test — but be sure to keep it light and fun. You can even use this as an opportunity to learn more about your students by asking about their hobbies or favorite things. Regardless of the content, by the time they’re done with the practice test, your students will be familiar with the technology and ready to jump in when the first quiz comes around.

2. Use Question Banks 

The main difference with online exams is that instructors have less control over the testing environment. Because of this, it’s important to employ strategies that will help motivate students to study and succeed in exams — in part by making dishonesty more difficult. 

One of the best features online exams have to offer is the question bank — a solution that helps you keep your students on their toes, make sure they’re engaged with the content and mix things up from student to student. To use the question bank to its full potential, you’ll need to create more questions than actually needed (for instance, if your exam has 20 multiple-choice questions, create 30). When your students take the test, the system will randomize which questions are pulled for which students, making sure that no two exams are the same.  

3. Provide Variation

In addition to question banks, online exams offer many other opportunities to keep your students engaged and learning. One way to do this is with various question formats. By combining multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions, you provide your students with multiple avenues to show you what they’re learning and even where they might be struggling. 

Another way to make sure they’re on their toes is to use randomization features. In addition to shuffling questions, you can also randomize answers so that, even when two students get the same question, the multiple-choice answer options come in a different order. 

4. Lean into Critical Thinking

Your goal at every stage of the teaching process is to engage your students. When you’re crafting exam questions, you don’t just want to know that they’re able to regurgitate information — you also want to see how they’re able to apply what they’ve learned. 

How do you know whether your questions require students to think critically? A good litmus test is to ask how easily the answer could be found with an online search. If it’s just a click away, try making it a bit more engaging. By asking questions that apply your course information to their lived experiences, you help your students engage with the material and increase their chances of succeeding in your course. 

5. Review & Optimize Your Settings 

While you may not have control over a student’s direct environment while they’re testing, online proctoring does offer many settings to make sure you (and your students) are set up for success. For instance, you can choose to only show one question at a time. This has a dual benefit of both making it more difficult for a student to screenshot or copy exam content and also making sure that their progress is saved after every question. You can also use features like randomization and disabling copy/paste to help protect your exam content. 

All online proctoring systems provide a number of settings so you can optimize exactly what your courses and exams need. Ultimately, you can choose what works best for you and your students by getting to know the features and what they do. And, once you’ve chosen your favorites, remember to review them every time so you know you’ll get the results you want from your assessment. 

Writing Online Exams Doesn’t Have to be Complicated 

Online exams aren’t much different from in-class assessments. While there are formatting best practices and settings that will help enable your students’ success, your core content and questions will likely translate well to online use. 

If you’re looking for more ideas to make your online exams the best they can be, talk with the faculty in your department. Find out what’s worked well for them and what they’ve learned the hard way. Most of them will be more than willing to share their hard-earned knowledge with you as you begin (or refine) your online exam creation. 

With just a few adjustments, you’ll be ready to write online tests that will engage your students, help them learn and help you accurately assess their knowledge.