Best Practices for Online Tests

Three students taking an exam on a large MAC desktop in a classroom

Should circumstances arise that require you to teach online, you may also find yourself needing to administer tests online. In the guidance that follows, the term tests includes quizzes, exams, and other assessments that can normally be delivered in the form of a document that students receive, complete, and return to the professor. Best practices for online projects (roughly conceived as activities culminating in a document that students submit or a performance that students enact) are available elsewhere.

Tools for Online Testing

The Tests & Quizzes tool within Courses is the preferred tool for online testing. It has been designed specifically for this purpose, complies with FERPA, provides for accessibility, and offers a range of pedagogical options. If you need any assistance setting up assessments in the Tests & Quizzes tool, Pepperdine's Technology and Learning team or your division's Technology Liaison can provide individual support.

Google Forms can also be used as a quiz platform, although Courses usually provides more robust options and analytics. Moreover, there is currently no direct way to import grades from a Google Form quiz into the Courses Gradebook. If you do choose to use Google Forms as a quizzing platform, activate the settings that limit responses to the Pepperdine domain and that automatically collect Pepperdine email addresses from respondents.

Some textbook publishers may provide their own online homework and quizzing platforms. The CTE, TechLearn, and your Technology Liaison cannot provide technical support for your use of these tools, nor certify their compliance with FERPA regulations and Pepperdine's privacy standards. Therefore, it is recommended that you use such tools only for low-stakes formative assessments and practice, not for summative assessments.

Designing and Administering Online Tests

Instructor Presence

During an on-site test, the professor is generally accessible to the students for questions. To provide similar access during an online test, schedule the test for a synchronous session, host a Zoom meeting for the students during the same period, and use the private chat feature in Zoom to field individual students' questions.


Students who receive accommodations for onsite testing must receive equivalent accommodations for online testing. The common accommodation of extended time is easy to implement in the Courses Tests & Quizzes tool. Other accommodations may require additional guidance from the Office of Student Accessibility or assistance from individuals located near the student. Please consult the OSA for policy guidance and the CTE, the TechLearn team, or your divisional Technology Liaison for help with implementation.

Time Limits and Deadlines

You can place time limitations on an online test or quiz just as you would for an on-site test. In fact, you should do so, particularly if your online test replaces a test you would otherwise give on-site. However, the risk of network interruptions accompanies any lengthy online experience, especially for students using high-traffic public WiFi networks. To reduce this risk, divide lengthy tests into shorter, individually timed segments. If you are willing to accept late submissions, double-check your assessment settings to be sure that you've set a latest submission date later than the standard due date.

Academic Integrity

The logistics of remote testing and the affordances of the internet make it easier for students inclined to cheat to do so, and may present a greater temptation for students who normally would not cheat in on-site contexts. Adapting pedagogically to these circumstances is generally preferable to deploying technological and logistical countermeasures, although the latter can also be useful.

Pedagogical strategies for promoting academic integrity in online testing include:

  • Design online tests with the assumption that, regardless of your preferences, students will in fact have unrestricted access to the internet while taking online tests. (At present, Seaver College does not recommend or offer technical support for lockdown browsers.) Avoid asking questions whose answers can easily be found using internet search engines or quickly looked up in textbooks (unless navigating search engines and textbook indices promotes your course's learning outcomes). Aim for questions that tend toward the middle terms of Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive processes as revised by Anderson and Kratwhol—understanding, applying, analyzing, and evaluating.
  • Require students to affirm an honor pledge at the beginning of the assessment. The Tests & Quizzes tool in Courses has a built-in honor pledge item that requires students to check a box affirming the statement, "I will neither give nor receive aid on this assessment." You might wish to write a pledge more specific to your course and your expectations in the form of a fill-in-the-blank question where the expected answer is the student's name: "I, _____, pledge that I will ..."

Technological and logistical strategies for promoting academic integrity in online testing include:

  • Display questions one at a time, with no backtracking allowed.
  • Display questions in a random sequence, except when using a series of individual questions as steps in a more complex scaffolded question.
  • Draw questions randomly from a large question pool.
  • Randomize the sequence of answers on multiple-choice questions.
  • Impose a time limit, particularly if the assessment focuses chiefly on information recall.
  • Release detailed feedback to students only after (but as soon as possible after, to promote learning) the submission deadline has passed.

The TechLearn team or your divisional Technology Liaison can show you how to implement any of these techniques in the Courses Tests & Quizzes tool.

At present, Seaver College does not recommend or offer technical support for third-party online proctoring services. If you think your students should be visually monitored while taking an online test, schedule the test as a synchronous class activity and host a Zoom session in which you require students to have their cameras on, and monitor the class just as you would in an on-site session. This technique also has the virtue of making you available to the students for questions, as previously discussed.

Preparing Students for Online Testing

Before you administer the first graded online test in any particular course, give students a no-stakes practice test so they can become accustomed to the testing platform. On this practice test, include samples of all the different types of questions (multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, matrix of choices, etc.) that you think you may wish to use later in the course.

For each online test you plan to administer, use the software's preview function so that you can see the test as students will see it. If your test includes embedded images, videos, PDFs, or other types of media, you might also consider enrolling a colleague (or yourself using a secondary email address) into your course as a student and asking them to complete each test with embedded media before you release it to students. Although a bit cumbersome, this method will reveal any problems with students' access to the embedded media resources (something that the preview function, at least in Courses and Google Forms, will not detect).

To help your students avoid technological issues during an online test, offer the following advice. (In the bullet points below, "you" refers to the student reading the advice.)

  • Use a wired internet connection if you can.
  • If you must use WiFi, use a private WiFi network if you can.
  • If you must use WiFi, try to reduce the number of devices accessing the same WiFi network simultaneously. For example, put your phone in airplane mode while taking a test or quiz on your laptop computer.
  • Never have Courses open simultaneously in more than one window or tab in your web browser. Failure to follow this guidance is the most common cause of data loss while taking an online assessment in Courses.
  • When navigating an online exam, don't use the browser back button. Instead, use the "Next" and "Back" buttons within the assessment interface.
  • Wait for each page to load completely. If you begin selecting answers before the page fully loads, you may lose work.
  • Write short answer or essay questions in a word processor or text editor, then paste your answer into Courses. This way, a backup copy of the work will be available if anything goes wrong.
  • Save your test answers frequently.
  • Don't forget to submit your exam when finished! In Courses, you must click "Submit for Grading" on two separate pages in order to complete the submission process. Read all of the text on the screen carefully so that you know which step you're on. You haven't turned in your test until you've clicked "Submit for Grading" on the second, confirmation screen and received a confirmation that you've submitted your assessment.

For more on tips and best practices for students, this documentation may be helpful.