Making Online Exams More Secure

It’s that time in the semester—time to think about final exams. If you teach online or have otherwise had the opportunity to give exams online, you know that securing the exam can be tricky. For my part, I assume students will be using their books and notes as they take the exam; however, the exams are still challenging and assess students’ mastery of the material. Here are my best tricks for securing my exams and promoting individual efforts.

Define the Rules for Taking the Exam

Does your school have an honor code or academic honesty policy for taking online exams? Do you expect students’ efforts to be individual ones? If you do, make the policies explicit.

Create Multiple Versions of the Exam

This is much easier than it sounds. My school uses D2L as its course management system, but I am guessing this will work in any system. For each question on the exam, I create three variations on the question—one question three ways. For example, if I am assessing trite expressions, each variation on that question will include a different trite expression. D2L randomizes the questions, so the odds are that even if students are trying to do the exam together, they will likely get different exam questions. In addition, I also randomize the answers within each question. I know writing multiple versions of a question seems like a lot of work, but many textbook test banks have multiple questions on any topic, and once you have created your pool of test questions, you can auto generate your exam each semester rather than writing a new one.

Set a Time Limit

Setting a time limit and penalizing late submissions discourages students from looking up every answer; they just do not have time. I let my students know of the time limit, let them know the late penalty, and encourage them to study as they would in a face-to-face course. How much time I give them depends on the nature of the questions. Generally, 30 – 40 minutes per 60 multiple-choice questions and 20 minutes per long-answer question or 5 short-answer questions will work.

Vary the Question Types

Using a combination of multiple-choice, long-answer, and short-answer questions lets you see individual effort more clearly and gives students a wider array of opportunities to demonstrate what they know.

Ask Questions That Require Application of Knowledge

Asking students to apply what they know means that they cannot readily look up information in a textbook. For example, rather than asking students for the definition of “parallelism,” ask students to select which sentence in a list of sentences is parallel.

I am guessing many of you have strategies that work well. If so, please share them with us.

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