Exams for Remote Instruction - Faculty

Information to guide faculty in planning and giving exams in a remote instruction environment.

Overview of Remote Exams

As you plan exams for a remote learning environment, first consider whether an exam is necessary, or if another assessment format would better allow you to evaluate what your students have learned.  For instance, is a project-based assessment or a series of lower-stakes assessments appropriate?

For most courses, the best option for delivering an exam is via a Canvas quiz, which supports both quantitative and qualitative exam formats. Although Canvas calls them "quizzes," the technology applies to both quiz and exam formats. You can specify the amount of time a student has to take an exam and mix-and-match questions from among the following types:

  • Automatically graded questions: Numeric, multiple choice, multiple answers, true/false, dropdown, matching, categorization, fill-in-the-blank, hot spot
  • Manually graded questions: Short answer/essay, file upload

Plan for open note/open book exams. Develop exams with the assumption that they are open note. There is currently no option for remote proctoring students during exams.  Allowing students to use course materials while completing these exams will eliminate unenforceable policies restricting access to course materials.

Best Practices

To give an exam that will meet expectations both for your teaching team and for your students, we recommend following these best practices:

  • Reinforce academic integrity by beginning with a 0-point question asking students to abide by the University's honor code.
  • Consider what course content is available to students given their locations. Don't assume all students have access to the same materials unless they are available online.
  • Consider what, if any, content should be visible after students complete an exam. Make sure to restrict the student result view of exam questions, responses, feedback, and correct/incorrect answers until after all students submit the exam.
  • Set extended time for students needing accommodations.

Maximize Exam Security

The strongest approach to exam integrity is to design an exam experience that delivers variations of the exam to each student. (Unfortunately, the Respondus LockDown Browser is not available in a remote environment.) You can:

  • Shuffle question order so that students see the exam questions in a different order.
  • Shuffle answer option order so that answers and distractors appear in a different order, and optionally lock "all of the above"-type options.
  • Create a larger pool of exam questions and draw from  an item bank; questions drawn from an item bank will be presented in random order.
  • Create multiple versions of questions placed in an item bank.

Other approaches to enhance exam security include:

  • Time limits, which minimize the amount of time students have to look up answers or consult with their peers.  Please see Exam Timing below for more guidance on time limits.
  • Multiple versions of an exam, when questions are linked or depend on each other and cannot be drawn from an item bank.
  • Open-ended, complex questions, which require manual grading.
  • Requiring that students show written work, by taking photos of their work, creating work digitally in Excel or a document, then uploading the files to Canvas.
  • Show one question at a time and, optionally, lock questions after answering to prevent students from returning to earlier questions.

Respondus LockDown Browser CANNOT be used for at-home exams. It is designed for use only during in-class proctored settings. We do not currently support Respondus Monitor or the use of video conferencing tools (BlueJeans, Zoom, etc) for remote proctoring.

Exam Timing

Although reducing the amount of time that students have to take an exam increases exam security, it also increases the chances that students will encounter technical difficulties that hinder their ability to complete the exam successfully. Multiple factors should be weighed when considering time constraints to place on your exam: 

  • If you have an uncomplicated, easy-to-complete exam, you can simply estimate how long a prepared student would take to complete the exam and give your class that amount of time to complete it.  

  • If you have students in multiple time zones, we suggest giving a wide window of time in which students can complete the exam to accommodate everyone. Based on your level of comfort, that window can be anywhere from 8-24 hours. Note that this window can still be used in conjunction with a timed exam so that students can take the exam anytime within the window of availability, but still only receive a finite number of minutes to complete it.  

  • If you have a very complex exam that may involve students using multiple technology platforms, uploading files, or answering different types of questions, we recommend granting up to 50% more time than you usually would if you were giving the exam in an in-person setting. This added time provides a buffer in which students can run into technical issues and resolve them before their time runs out, without requiring support from you or others.  

  • If you’d like for students to upload an image or a scan that shows their work, you may want to consider having students submit this to a separate Canvas Assignment set to receive file uploads, rather than during the quiz. In this way, you’ll avoid any issues that students may run into when attempting to upload work during the timed exam.  

Regardless of what type of exam you’re administering, always remember to set a final due date so that the exam gets placed on students’ Canvas Calendars, To-do Lists, and other prominent places in Canvas. 

Transition to New Quizzes

Starting in Spring 2020, the IDEA Courseware Team began recommending that most courses use Canvas's New Quizzes (rather than the legacy Classic Quizzes). New Quizzes has been in use in select courses at Wharton since Spring 2019, and it will eventually be the only quiz option available in Canvas. New Quizzes offers many benefits for remote exams, including an easy-to-use quiz building environment.

  • New Quizzes will be the better option for most courses. It offers:
    • A more intuitive question-writing environment for you and TAs, as well as a friendlier test-taking experience for your students.
    • Simpler procedures for extra-time accommodations. 
    • Onscreen calculator options (basic or scientific) which you can make available to students selectively.
    • Regrading of most automatically graded question types, including numeric questions.
    • Specialized question types including categorization, ordering, and image "hot spots".
    • Association of adjacent questions with a "stimulus" (a problem description, optionally with figures or graphs).
    • Configurable essay questions, including spell check, rich text formatting, word count/limit, and notes for graders.
    • Selective shuffling of answer options per question, as well as flexible random question selection from item banks.
  • Classic Quizzes is not as easy to use, but it currently provides options that are not yet available in New Quizzes.  This older quiz engine is still supported through Summer 2022 and is appropriate if you:
    • Rely on a downloadable Excel file of student responses.
    • Prefer to bulk-download all student submissions to file-upload questions.
    • Need to allow students to record audio or video in their responses.
    • Link to files as part of the instructions.
    • Only need to regrade previously-autograded multiple-choice questions.
    • Would like to revise quizzes in multiple Canvas sites controlled by a Blueprint Courses template.

The Courseware team can assist you in learning how to create a quiz in Canvas.


If you need more assistance, please contact courseware@wharton.upenn.edu for support.