Exams and Security

Below you will see two examples of how tests can be used online. There are multiple options for testing but one must remember that there is no way to ensure that the test is taken honestly unless it is proctored by a reliable source.  In this day and age of electronics even a locked down browser is not secure.  Students can potentially use cell phones, iPads, books, a knowledgeable friend for advice during a test.  If it is high stakes then maybe a test is not the way to evaluate learning.  See section on plagiarism and cheating.


  • Exams are scheduled periodically during the semester to test knowledge in the course.
  • All students are expected to take the exams during the week they are scheduled unless an excused absence is obtained before the test.
  • The exam is available at any time during the week it is online; however, the student will only have a 1.5-hour window to complete it.
  • All questions are randomly assigned to each test and randomly assigned to each student. No two tests are alike. They can use their book to answer questions but time is limited to 1.5 hours for the 50 questions. They need to be prepared for taking the test.
  • Exams are primarily multiple-choice and cover the required readings, lecture content, and discussion content from each module.
  • Feedback: When everyone has finished taking the exam the students are given access to the correct answer. If they don’t agree with a particular answer it is their responsibility to challenge the question. They need to send an email with the whole question written out, why they think it should be scored differently, and references to support their rationale. It is their responsibility to ask for corrections. It is a part of the learning experience.
  • Drawback to the random assignment of test questions is that test question statistics are not available.

Example from Jane Blood-Siegfried (2012) Duke University School of Nursing syllabus N441.

Resetting an exam

Every semester one or two students has a problem when taking a test.  They are advised to make sure that they have a secure connection but things do happen.

  • Students need to assess their ability to complete a test online. If they have a slow modem, problems logging on or problems staying connected they should:
    • Arrange to take the test on a reliable computer.
    • Or arrange to come to school to take the test.
  • Things do happen in the online world and sometimes tests need to be reset for students with a good reason; however do it carefully.  Think about how this may be giving a student an unfair advantage over other students.
    • If a student calls or emails when the problem occurs it is more likely to be a real problem. If you are randomizing from a large question pool then resetting can change their questions and the order in which they appear. So a student could potentially have a totally different set of questions the second time.
    • The second time it happens a student is out of luck and will need to come to campus and take a closed-book pen and paper test or live with a “0” grade.
    • Frequent fliers need to be handled early on in the course.  They tend to have excuses for many assignments and need to be dealt with accordingly.

Example from Nancy Short (2011) Duke University School of Nursing syllabus N301.

A learning exam or quiz

  • An exam or quiz can be used as a learning experience. By using online testing tools in your MLS you can make many different variations of tests.  A learning exam helps students build their knowledge base by taking a complex exam several times.
  • An example of this is a timed, open-book/resource test, taken three times. The best score is counted.
  • Questions for each of the three trials are randomly pulled from a large question pool.
  • Each time a student takes the test they could potentially have a different set of questions.
  • Each attempt is open for 1.5 hours so the students have to be familiar with the material before starting. There is not enough time to look up all of the answers.  However they will have time between attempts to learn more and answer questions they might have.
  • These tests should be difficult and require critical thinking and synthesis of knowledge.
  • Some of these same questions can be used later in the course to solidify learning.

Example from Jane Blood-Siegfried (2012) Duke University School of Nursing syllabus N441.

Sakai Online Test Guidelines for instructors and students

What is the best way to take a test or quiz? for students