What students need to know about tests

Online testing is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the online learning experience for students. You can help students do their best if you are very clear to them about the expectations for exams. Information about exam expectations should be included in the syllabus and in the set-up of the exam, where it should be visible to them before they open the exam itself.

Providing this information to students helps curb cheating and helps them take responsibility for their performance.  

If all your exams and quizzes follow the same format, include questions about quiz and exam formats in an orientation quiz to your class. Alternatively, if you give only a midterm and a final, require a small pre-exam quiz over the format of each; you can even set up your LMS so that the midterm or final won’t open until students have passed the quiz about the format of the exam. Reminding students of the rules lowers cheating a bit; requiring them to repeat the rules back to you (such as on a quiz over the rules for the exam) lowers it even more. And it reduces the chance that you will have to deal with excuses that “they didn’t know” what the expectations were. 

  • If I have a technical problem while taking the exam, what should I do?
  • Is this exam proctored? If so, will I be observed by someone from my institutions? Will I be observed by someone else? Will I be recorded? 
  • If the exam is proctored, what behaviors should I avoid that might make the proctor think I’m cheating?
  • If the exam is proctored, do I need to sign up for a time to be proctored?
  • If the exam proctoring is recorded, what happens to the recordings? Who has access to them? For how long? How are they disposed of? What information is taken from them? Is it sold to anyone?
  • Where would the proctor like me to place my phone during the exam?
  • How much of my personal space will the proctor request to see before and during the exam?
  • Am I permitted to take the exam in a public space, like a library or coffee shop?
  • What should I do if I am interrupted during the exam by someone else, like a family member who requires my attention?
  • What should I do if I lose internet connection during the exam?
  • Will I have a chance to try out the proctoring protocols before the exam?
  • When does the exam become available? If the window of availability does not include a time when I can take it because of conflicts with other classes, a major difference in time zones, or travel for school-related activities, what should I do? Can I take it in advance?
  • Am I allowed to use my book or other class materials during the exam?
  • Am I allowed to use my notes during the exam?
  • Am I allowed to use the internet during the exam? If some internet use is permitted, are all websites permitted or only certain ones?
  • Am I permitted to work with others on the exam, either online or in person?
  • Am I permitted to take breaks during the exam? If so, does the time I spend on a break count toward the total time allotted for the exam, or is the timer paused during this time?
  • What will happen if I feel ill or need to use the bathroom during the exam?
  • Will all questions be available to me at the start of the exam? Only some?
  • Will I be able to backtrack to questions I previously answered and change my response?
  • Am I permitted only one attempt for this exam? If I am permitted more than one attempt, which grade is recorded in the gradebook: the highest, the most recent, or an average?
  • If I am permitted additional attempts beyond the first, do I have to wait between attempts?
  • Will I see my score immediately after completing the exam? If I am able to see my score, will I be able to see which questions I missed immediately, or will I have to wait? When will I be able to see the correct answers? Will I be able to see your feedback to my answers?
  • If the exam requires me to do calculations, may I use a calculator?
  • If the exam requires me to do calculations, am I permitted to use scratch paper? Will the scratch paper be reviewed by the proctor in advance? Will I be required to destroy the scratch paper at the end of the exam?
  • How many minutes do I have to complete the exam?
  • If I have not submitted my answers by the end of the exam period, will they be automatically submitted? 
  • If the end of the exam hour occurs while I am in the middle of the exam, will the answers I have already provided be saved?
  • If the exam hour ends while I am mid-exam, can I complete any further questions?

Above, a boy writes using a pen and inkwell, a half-eaten apple at his desk, his head bent forward as he chomps on his tongue, deep in thought. A girl stands over his shoulder, looking at his work, and mending something. They are surrounded by curiosities: a suit of armor, a caged bird, stained glass. Make exam prep more fair and effective for your students by telling them exactly what to plan for.


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