5 Tips on Revamping Tests and Assignments for Remote Instruction

There are several challenges to moving high-stakes tests to a remote teaching environment. Students do not all have access to reliable broadband internet, and some may experience instability when taking a longer online exam. As a result, high-stakes tests when teaching remotely may be especially stressful for students and create additional work for faculty, who must consider whether a student request to complete an interrupted exam can be allowed. There are also challenges to maintaining academic integrity in a remote testing environment.

For all of our recommendations below, consider the key learning outcomes and conceptual knowledge you want students to demonstrate when selecting the approach that works best for your course. To help you think through options, we have compiled recommended alternatives to high-stakes testing and assignments that can help reduce stress for you and your students, while also reducing the impact of academic integrity violations. These alternatives may not scale to your class size, or may not fit with your course; however, you may find suggestions that help you to reduce the “stakes” for your final exam or to reorganize your assessment structure.

Before you read through these tips, please consider our top advice first:

Tip #1: Be flexible with students.
Both faculty and students are working in very unusual and challenging conditions. In many cases, sticking strictly to attendance and late policies, grade curves, or assignment weights will exacerbate those challenges. Where possible, focus on assessing the important and valuable learning that is occurring, even if it is different from what you expected when you designed the course.
Tip #2: Reassess your grading structure.
While individual students may be able to request extensions, incompletes, or accommodations, faculty can also rethink the grading structure of their course and consider ways to compensate for the transition to remote instruction.

  • Lower the stakes. Adjusting from a few large assessments to more assignments with lower grade values can help students manage their workload. However, be careful to avoid multiplying the number and types of assignments to the point where students feel overwhelmed with multiple due dates and have trouble identifying key assignments to focus on.
  • Reallocate points. Eliminating assignments or assessments that will be difficult to complete under remote instruction/social isolation and reallocating those grade points can help simplify your grading structure. Keep in mind that this could negatively affect some students’ grades and you may have to work with students on ways to balance these effects.
  • Allow students additional options for demonstrating learning. Some students may be learning and benefiting from your course, even though their performance has been negatively affected by remote instruction. This can take the form of additional, optional short assignments, or adding options to weight written work/projects more heavily, and reducing the weight of quizzes or tests.
  • Introduce reflections or self-assessments into your grading structure. Offering students opportunities to reflect on and communicate what their main “takeaways” are from your course can provide important information about real student gains that have occurred, even under challenging conditions. This approach can also help students connect the course materials to their own academic and other goals. Reflections and self-assessments can be accomplished via an exam essay question, quiz, short assignment, or brief journal reflections.
  • Adjust your scale. If you have taught your course several times, you may have data or expectations for student performance at certain points in the course. If students struggle with a particular assessment more than they have in the past (e.g. the average on an exam is much lower than it usually is), consider adjusting the assignment weight or curve the grade.
Tip #3: Reduce the “stakes.”
Having a few, high-stakes exams (e.g. 4 exams each worth 25% of the final grade) as the only grades for a course concentrates pressure on a few larger assessments, which are often timed and may occur during the day, when internet load is high.
Consider these approaches instead:

  • Replace one exam with several shorter quizzes. These quizzes can test recent knowledge, as well as include some previous information or ask students to integrate recent and past course topics/knowledge.
  • Allow students two (or more) attempts at a quiz. By allowing students two attempts, they will not have as much stress if their quiz quits or freezes. They will not receive the same set of quiz questions on their second attempt if you use randomized pools of questions. If your quiz is mostly long answer questions, consider making it an open-book, “take home” exam, or offer students unlimited quiz attempts and encourage them to draft answers in a separate document, in case their quiz quits.
  • Offer an alternative exam. For students with connectivity issues, offer a separate exam that has essay questions instead of multiple-choice questions. You can email them the exam and manually enter their grade into the Grade Center column for the test.
Tips #4: Implement assessments in a way that promotes academic integrity.
Rather than try to recreate the conditions of your in-class exam during remote instruction, consider whether one of these options could focus your assessment on key learning goals, while maintaining more flexibility for you and your students.

  • Include discussions of academic integrity prior to quizzes or assignments, rather than focusing your efforts on detecting student cheating.
  • Consider moving to authentic assessments. Authentic assessments engage students’ intrinsic motivation by connecting to personal interests, real-world application, and current events. Research shows that when students are personally interested in their learning, they are much less likely to cheat. Additionally, authentic assessments are often specific to a time, place, person, and or event, which means they are less likely to be able to be copied from previous semesters or purchased from online sources.
  • Use randomization in your quizzes or exams. Blackboard allows you to create question pools (i.e., several questions to test each concept or content area) and pull randomly from several pools to create a quiz. For example, you might have 10 possible questions in a topic area, and tell Blackboard to randomly pull two questions from this pool into the quiz.
  • Use an open-book rather than closed-book exam. Open-book exams can be written to require deeper thought, more original problem-solving, and integration of knowledge from several areas/sources; higher-level application questions are less easily answered via internet searches than recall of facts. Potential question types include modified T/F (explain your answer); answer questions based on data sets (show your work); describe approaches or solutions and why that approach was selected; write short essays incorporating examples from several different course readings; explain the difference between two similar vocabulary terms by offering and explaining an example from readings or lectures. Consider flexibility in timing of an open-book exam to accommodate student differences in schedules, internet connectivity, and other responsibilities (e.g., 24-hour period for completion).
Tip #5: Redesign assignments that are no longer possible in remote learning/social distancing conditions.

Many faculty require assignments that involve attending events, conducting observations, or attending in-person meetings. Some of those assignments may not have been completed before Spring break and will need to be eliminated or redesigned.

  • Consider online alternatives to assignments that require attending events. It may be helpful to curate a limited set of appropriate “events” for students to attend (e.g., on YouTube). In addition to (or instead of) a written reflection or summary, you can use the Discussion Board to organize student discussions of their experience attending the events; groups can be based on which event they attended, or you can group students and have them compare events. Create writing and/or discussion prompts that help students relate the event to course content and apply concepts from the course.
  • Pursue remote interview options, such as email or telephone interviews. If this is not possible, students can practice some of these skills by drafting interview questions and then collecting, comparing, and analyzing information on organization websites, in media interviews, or in recorded panel discussions.
  • Replace observation or data collection assignments with case studies or existing datasets for analysis and discussion.