Exam Strategies Guide
The purpose of this guide is to support Arts instructors in creating successful final assessments, for both online and in person students. Below you will find suggestions on best practices and resources for designing and delivering final exams and assignments.
- What form do exams tend to take in this course/discipline?
- What have your students found least and most helpful? How can you make your exams more helpful to student learning?
- Reflect on L. Dee Fink’s feedback and assessment procedures to ensure students can meaningfully demonstrate the skills and knowledge they developed in the course in “Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning” (2005, p. 13-15).
To help student to minimize exam stress, consider the following strategies:
Before the exam:
- Conduct a short survey to better understand students test anxiety: Test Examination Anxiety Measurement (TEAM)
- Design learning activities and assignments that will prepare students for their assessments. The learning outcomes that will be tested in the final assessment should be familiar to students.
- Provide students with a practice exam so they are familiar with the format and layout of the exam.
- Encourage students to self-enroll in the Art ISIT: Exam Practice Run so they can familiarize themselves with the exam technologies and resolve potential issues.
During the exam:
- Consider including a short and encouraging statement on the front of your exam.
- Provide students with one minute before the start of exam to read through the entire assessment. Encourage students to focus on questions they are comfortable with, to enhance self-efficacy. During this time, they should not write anything down.
- Consider adding an interactive cover sheet (ICS) to your assessment to foster dialogue between instructors and students.
Additional Student Resources:
- Share resources and tips for students to manage their own exam anxiety. Resources such as UBC Wiki Exam Strategy Guide can empower students to adopt positive study habits that will reduce their stress levels.
- Encourage students to take advantage of the Wellness resources available to all UBC students through the UBC Wellbeing Guide.
When designing your final assessment, it is helpful to consider the pedagogical factors around exam format, questions and activities, as well as best practices for using exam technologies.
Timed Exam – Timed exams are completed within the course’s scheduled class time or the designated final exam time slot. These types of exams are most suitable for large courses, especially those that cover a wide breadth of learning outcomes since they are able to assess a range of knowledge in a relatively efficient manner. While automated grading of multiple choice or other similar questions can save time, it is important to account for the time needed to design effective questions that assess higher order learning.
Take home exam - Take home exams can be an effective way to assess higher order learning, reduce student anxiety, and technical issues. This model is most effective when questions require synthesis across learning goals and analysis or application of course concepts. While take home exams can be more effective at assessing higher order learning, it may not be suitable for introductory courses which cover a wider breadth of learning outcomes.
Hybrid exam – Typically, an exam in this format would be separated into two sections. The exam can be designed such that students complete the first section together within a specified time and additional time, such as a 24 hour window, is allotted for the second section, which typically involves a longer essay response.
In-Tray/Box Exercises – In-Tray/Box Exercises are timed exams where students are assessed on material (e.g., a case study) that has been provided prior to the exam. This model allows you to assess more complex applications or analysis skills while mitigating the effects of test anxiety.
- The University of Saskatchewan has created an excellent guide for thinking through the implications of different kinds of exams during remote teaching.
- UCL’s guide, Designing Effective Online Assessments, provides a number of options for alternatives to traditional exams.
- What are the most important learning outcomes of your course?
- Based on your experience, what problems or questions positively challenge students to demonstrate their level of mastery in the course?
- How will you assess whether students have achieved the learning outcome?
- Consider using an exam blueprint to help you align your intended course learning outcomes and the questions you ask on the exam.
- Consider helping students succeed by framing it in the context of how it is important to master the material for their future careers (I.e., structural and civil engineers need to have a mastery in concepts such as X, Y, Z, so they can design, construct, repair bridges, tunnels, and other structures that are stable and safe for the public to use).
- Consider connecting concepts taught in class to real-life examples so students can see the relevance and importance of what they are learning.
Below are concrete suggestions that can be implemented into existing online exams to allay unnecessary student stress during their final assessment:
Design a pre-exam writing task
Research has demonstrated the power of positive self-reflections as a way to reduce test anxiety and enhance students’ self-efficacy and exam performance (Ramirez, G. and Beilock, S. L., 2011). When students write about their past challenges and the strategies they used to cope with challenges in a successful manner prior to a high-stakes assessment, they are able to enhance self-efficacy, alleviate test anxiety, self-doubt, and fixed-mindset which interferes with learning and performance.
Example of a prompt to include at the front of exam:
Please use the next 3 minutes to answer the following question. This section is not graded and is not counted as part of your exam time.
“Write about a positive experience in which you coped with a challenge in a successful manner while feeling joy and pride. Describe these feelings and explain what these experiences mean to you”
Construct effective questions and exam assessment tasks
Adapt the kinds of questions you would ask on a face-to-face final exam for online delivery by asking fewer multiple-choice questions and asking more questions that assess higher-order thinking skills. For guidance on adapting your exam tasks, consult the following resources to get started:
- UBC CTLT Remote Teaching Institute workshop on Creating Multiple Choice Questions for Higher Order Thinking
- Writing Good Multiple Choice Test Questions (Vanderbilt University)
- Writing Good Multiple Choice Exams (University of Texas at Austin)
- Chapter 17 - Writing Multiple Choice and Other Objective Tests (from Assessing Student Learning, 3rd Edition)
Include a post-exam reflection
Consider including a reflection activity at the end of your exam. This will help students to reflect on their own learning process and help them to share learning achievements that they may not have had the chance to share in the exam.
An unscripted reflection activity that assesses personal engagement with course content can also help to ensure academic honesty.
What are some study strategies you used for studying for this exam? How did you feel about the effectiveness of your study strategies for this exam?
Academic dishonesty in-person and online can be challenging to prevent. Experts report some of the reasons why students feel a need to cheat are due to stress, amotivation, and disconnection. Consider setting testing conditions so cheating temptation is low and the barrier to cheating is high.
Below are some practical tips to use in the classroom to promote academic integrity:
- Review the policy and procedures outlined on the Arts AIR Academic Misconduct page.
- Visit the UBC Academic Integrity Faculty Resource site for information about how to foster an environment of academic integrity, sample wording about academic integrity on exams, and more.
- Have a dialogue with the class about cheating before the end of term. Give them examples of cheating behaviour you have seen in the past and encourage them to visit the Chapman Learning Commons student guide for academic integrity.
- Create a fair, fit-to-purpose online exam.
- For student and faculty resources and information about the role of academic integrity and what happens when it is breached, see the UBC Academic Integrity page.
Aside from enabling students to write exams remotely, online assessment tools can facilitate secure final assessments, gauge student understanding of course concepts and increase grading efficiency. There are numerous exam tools that are available for free at UBC and are integrated with Canvas.
Exams can be administered to students through Canvas Quizzes, Crowdmark or Gradescope. Canvas Quizzes allows use of Canvas Speedgrader and can be used with proctoring technology like Respondus Lockdown Browser. However, large classes with numerous TAs or a more complex grading scheme may benefit from using Crowdmark or Gradescope. Refer to our matrix which provides a comparison of the different functionalities to each exam delivery and grading tool.
For a detailed comparison of Exam Platform features see the UBC Skylight Guide.
To ensure smooth use of any new teaching tool, it is important to select tools carefully and prepare your students for these technologies beforehand.
- Communicating with your class about which tools they will be using, and the reasoning behind your choice, will help to allay anxiety they may feel.
- Having students do a test run of the technology you plan to use will troubleshoot possible technical problems before the exam.
- Arts ISIT has set up an Exam Practice Run course that students can self-enrol in. It includes student set up guides and test quizzes that will ensure tools such as Respondus Lockdown Browser, and Zoom are compatible with their devices.
- Be available to your students during the exam
- To minimize the isolation that can come from remote assessment activities, instructors can connect with their students during the exam through a video conferencing tool. Students can write their entire exam in a Zoom session the instructor has created or the instructor can just make sure they are available through Zoom, so students can drop by with questions.
- Make use of the technical support available for instructors and make sure students are aware of the technical support that is available to them.
- Instructors can take advantage of extended Arts ISIT exam hours to connect with tech support by virtual drop-in, by phone or email: https://isit.arts.ubc.ca/contact-us/.
- Students can contact the Chapman Learning Commons through email or virtual drop-in. They can also email or phone the UBC ITSC Helpdesk.
- Have a contingency plan or alternative examination task in case a student requires a last minute accommodation (e.g., have paper copies of the exam available in the event of a technical issue with Canvas Quizzes).
Most instructors will opt to deliver their exam through Canvas Quizzes because students already have access to the platform and are familiar with the interface. Canvas Quizzes also has settings that can help enhance exam integrity and effectively assess student mastery of course learning outcomes.
- Time limit: Setting a time limit in a Canvas exam is a good practice for timed exams. It will enable an individualized timer to help students manage their time and automatically submit exam work that students may have forgotten to submit. Using the time limit feature on a Canvas Quiz also reduces the time that students can spend looking up answers or communicating with other students. Tip: time limits can be adjusted during the exam through the “Moderate this Quiz” tool.
- Show/Hide Answers: Canvas Quizzes include features that will “Let Students See Their Quiz Responses,” as well as the correct answers, after writing a Quiz. For final assessments, it is advisable to either not allow students to view their responses automatically or make sure answers are not visible until all students have completed the exam. At the same time, it is important to have a strategy for students to see their feedback and results.
- Question delivery: The option to only “Show one question at a time” and to “Lock questions after answering” can be enabled through Quiz Settings. Limiting student access to one question at a time and not allowing them to change their answer can discourage collusion and sharing of answers. Not allowing students to change responses or go back to review previous questions can also be a source of anxiety and may impede on time-management strategies that students use. Usefully, Canvas has a list of all questions in the top righthand corner of a student’s test page to help them manage the time spent on each question.
- Availability Dates: The Available From and Until dates in Canvas Quizzes restrict student access to an exam. It is a good idea to only make the Quiz “Available” on the date and time of the exam. Note that availability dates cannot be adjusted in the middle of an exam so they should not be used in the place of a time limit.
- Randomize Question Order: By putting Quiz questions into Canvas Question Groups, you can randomize the order they appear for students. You don’t need to have Question Banks set up to make use of these question pools. You can just create the Group and then add existing questions from the Quiz to it.
Tip: Group similar level question together for exam consistency. See the Question Pools page of The Faculty of Applied Science Remote Assessment Guidebook to view a sample exam pool layout and more details on how many questions of different learning outcome levels to include in each question pool.
Some faculty members choose to use technology to make exams more secure. In addition to the internal Canvas Quiz features, there are third party options that can help to enhance the security and integrity of exams as well. Respondus Lockdown Browser and Zoom are available for free to UBC courses, and are integrated with Canvas. Turnitin for plagiarism detection is also available for free for UBC. While these tools can help to deter academic dishonesty, they are best used as part of an overall strategy to promote academic integrity.
- View Arts ISIT’s comparison chart of tools for securing and proctoring exams
- View UBC Skylight’s comparison chart for exam and invigilation technologies
During the Exam:
Respondus Lockdown Browser:
Respondus Lockdown is a custom browser that can be integrated with Canvas Quizzes. This tool restricts student from accessing other applications on their computer, such as internet browsers or chat tools, while writing their Canvas exam. For more information about this tool and instructions on how to set it up, see resources on Respondus Lockdown Browser and how to use Lockdown Browser with Zoom.
Connecting with students through the Zoom video conferencing tool or is one of the ways instructors can try to emulate the in-class exam writing experience. When students join an exam Zoom session and have their cameras on as they write their final, instructors can be readily available to answer questions and monitor student behaviour. For added security, a Zoom link can be added to a Respondus Lockdown Browser Quiz. This allows instructors to view students writing their exams, while also making sure students cannot leave the exam writing window. For instructions on how to use Zoom for an exam or how to add a Zoom link to a Lockdown Browser Quiz, see resources on how to Monitor Your Online Exams with Lockdown Browser and Zoom.
After the Exam:
Canvas Quiz Analytics:
All student quiz activity in Canvas is logged. This ensures student work is not lost, as quizzes are auto-saved every few seconds. It also allows instructors to view details of student quiz activity, including incidents of students leaving the exam or accessing another window. For more information on how to access this information, see the Canvas Quiz Log instructor guide.
Turnitin OriginalityCheck helps to check student work for improper citation or potential plagiarism by comparing submissions against Turnitin content databases, including other student submissions, web content and publisher databases. The originality of student content can be confirmed by students before submission or instructors after submissions. For more information about setting up Turnitin for your courses, see the Arts ISIT resource page on Turnitin.
For additional support, live support can be requested from Arts ISIT during exams for instructors and students. Contact Arts ISIT.
Provide concise and tailored feedback efficiently by using these features of Speedgrader:
- Rubrics to help make feedback reliable, consistent and more efficient for essay questions.
- Video/audio feedback. This has been shown to enhance student engagement during online learning such that feedback is received in a more effective and constructive manner.