Online Testing for Instructors (Best Practices)

Pros and Cons for Using Digitally Proctored Online Testing

  • Reduces paper cost for printing exams or purchasing bubble sheets. 
  • Increases testing efficiencies by offering some automation for grading and collections of assessment statistics.
  • Supports the facilitation of consistent feedback to students.
  • Allows for digital proctoring (Example: using Respondus LockDown Browser [LDB]).
  • Allows for the option between asynchronous and synchronous testing.
  • Has features to support academic integrity and reduce motivations in cheating in online testing.
  • Encourages the mastery of building online tests which do differ from paper exams.  A learning curve for instructors should be expected.

A Few Best Practices

  1. Recommendation: If you use question types that have a clear right answer (for example, multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, etc.), Blackboard [Bb] will grade the test questions for you.

Explanation: The LMS is built for online testing which pedagogically differs from paper and pencil testing due to the tools available. The concepts of assessing learners on learning objectives remains. However, online testing does have some differences. When using online testing, you are offer additional setting features that are not available with paper and pencil testing. Results can be immediate if you design the test to be an immediate feedback option. Predetermined feedback can be offered for questions and automatically provided for students.

  1. Recommendation: Allow multiple attempts for a test and/or not count the test as part of the student's final grade.

Explanation: This pedagogical approach allows students to use the test for self-assessment purposes, to determine (based on the test results) what materials they need to study in more depth.

  1. Recommendation: Provide feedback for correct and incorrect answers (or even for individual responses), and students can receive the feedback after they submit their quiz/test/exam, which promotes student learning.

Explanation: Providing feedback for questions can allow students some opportunity to take a test multiple times and learn from the feedback received.  This does take time to prepare and develop, but it is worth the independent learning activity gained.  One thought might be that question pools and question sets be used for randomizing like questions could be very useful for tests with multiple attempts.  This way you have several questions covering the same learning objective.  With enough options for questions on the same learning objective, peers are not likely to receive the same question.

  1. Recommendation: Do not give long tests via Blackboard. Although there is no exact rule here, if your test will take between an hour and two hours (or longer) for students to complete, you might want to consider dividing the test into two (or more) parts, with each part created as a separate test.

Explanation: The longer the test, the greater the possibility for session time-outs and network interruptions.

  1. Recommendation: It is good practice that students should save their answers while working on the test.

Explanation: It is recommended that students save the test every 10 to 15 minutes, so they can return to a recent point in a test if something causes them to be kicked out of the test.

Student Motivations for Cheating

One way to assist the reduction of cheating on tests is to better understand why students cheat.  Each student will project different motivations.  Instructors need to strive to reduce motivations rather than prevent the act of cheating itself.  A couple of suggestions include addressing cheating head-on; provide alternate paths to subvert technology using other technology and tools as well as educating students. Some instructors use Respondus LockDown Browser, but it does not address student motivations for cheating.  A motivated student will still likely cheat even when employing LockDown Browser.  If you would like to learn more about why students cheat, look into James Lang’s work on Cheating Lessons.

How to Develop Online Exams with a Higher Degree of Confidence for Effectively Assessing Student Learning

For example, students working from remote locations could use two computers at once (one for taking the exam, the other for accessing other applications). Students could use digital cameras to capture the screen content, send text messages on mobile phones or wearable technology, or simply refer to notes kept on any number of media (desktop background images, wearable technology, mobile devices, invisible ink, etc.).

Advanced assessment design can be employed to further reduce the risk of cheating and ensure that students know the course material. Each approach below provides another hurdle to overcome in the process of assessment. Even one or two of these items can often provide sufficient security for most assessments.

Write Questions that Can Not be Searched

By writing authentic assessment questions, students can then be informed that the answers cannot be searched using the Internet for assistance. The students will have to know the material and derive the answers on their own.

Use Large Test Pools or Banks

Create a large bank of questions (pool) from which to select questions for each test. Many textbooks supply test banks as a foundation for developing your own test bank.


Having students take an exam in a room being monitored by a proctor is a major deterrent to most forms of cheating. Enhance this method by having the proctor check the identification of the student prior to the start the exam, or using a “test password” (see next item). For distance courses, proctored locations can be established in other cities, even other countries. Because of the time and expense required for a proctored setting, proctors are sometimes used only with high-stake assessments (e.g., midterms, finals).

Assessment Passwords (Bb Setting and/or LDB Advanced Setting)

An assessment password prevents students from accessing the exam until a password has been supplied. Assessment passwords can be typed by the proctors themselves (for added security) or conveyed to the student at the start of the assessment. If you are using Respondus LockDown Browser, an auto-generated password will be created.  However, you can add another password for the students or proctor to enter before taking the exam.  You can enter the second password in the Respondus LockDown Browser Dashboard (more information about this found later in this document.)

Disallow Multiple Attempts (Bb Setting)

By only allowing one attempt for an assessment, students will not be able to determine the questions in the assessment, look up the answers at a later time, and then retake the assessment. If there are connectivity issues during examinations, this will restrict students from finishing without instructor intervention.

Limit Initial Feedback to “Score Only” (Bb Setting)

Select “Score Only” for the initial Feedback Mode. This will prevent students from viewing, printing or copying questions after they have completed the exam. Once all students have completed the exam, the Feedback Mode can be changed so that more detailed feedback can be seen by the student. To protect questions for future terms, the “Score Only” setting should only be used.

Answer Randomization (Bb Setting)

Answer choices to multiple choice, multiple answer, and matching questions can easily be randomized. This setting is selected at the time a question is created.

Randomize Questions (Bb Setting)

Question randomization is a good deterrent for assessments delivered in a classroom setting. Some versions of Blackboard allow question randomization for an entire assessment to be turned on with a single check box. An alternative approach is to create a “question set” or “random block” which will also display grouped questions in random order.

Question Sets and Random Blocks (Bb Settings)

“Question sets” and “Random Blocks” are pools of questions that generally assess similar content. During an assessment, the questions are randomly drawn from the pool so that each student sees a different set of questions. For example, the first question in an exam might be drawn from a pool of 5 questions, making the odds only 1 in 5 that students will see the same question. Question Sets and Random Blocks are ideal for creating alternate forms of the same question. They are also good for working with case study questions.  The case study should be entered on each question so students do not have to scroll a webpage to access the case for each question.

Calculated Questions (Bb Question Type)

Calculated questions, typically used in math and science courses, include variables in the question wording. The values for these variables are randomly generated, so students encountering the same question must give unique answers.

Time Limits (Bb Setting)

By limiting the time a student can spend on an assessment, students can be discouraged from consulting other sources since they will not have time to do so.

Availability Dates and Times (Bb Setting)

This setting restricts the availability of the assessment to a specific date/time range.

Forced Completion (Bb Setting)

If you select Force Completion, students must complete the test or survey when they launch it. Students may only access the test or survey ONE TIME. The Save function is available for students to save the questions as they work through them, but they may not exit and re-enter the test or survey. In the instructions, Force Completion is noted and explained to students. If you don't enable Force Completion, students may save their progress, navigate away, and return to complete the test or survey.

If students accidentally close their browsers, leave the test or survey page, or lose power or their internet connections, they can't continue as it will end their ONE TIME access. They must contact the instructor and ask for a new attempt.

Due to the restricted nature of the Forced Completion option, instructors may want to reserve the Force Completion option. Students can be required to take a test on campus and with a proctor. If issues occur, the proctor can reset the test during the testing period.  If a test is reset, the students will start from the beginning of the test once again.

Deliver Questions One at a Time (Bb Setting)

By having exam questions delivered one at a time, it makes it more difficult for students to capture the exam contents using a digital camera (e.g., 50 questions requires 50 pictures).  This also causes the website to refresh more often.  If students are using questionable Internet connections, this could cause additional technical errors.  It could also keep their browsers from timing out for very long tests.

Code of Conduct

Have students sign an honesty statement that summarizes the expectations and requirements for academic honesty before allowing the exam to be released. This would require that you use the Adaptive Release “Review” option on the exam and have it refer to the code of conduct document you uploaded for student review.  Students will be required to “Mark Reviewed” before the exam link is available.

Mix Online Exams with Other Methods of Assessment (a.k.a. Authentic Assessment)

Combine objective tests with other methods of assessment, such as group projects and writing assignments. Essay questions also make it difficult for students to cheat on a traditional assessment, knowing that the instructor may recognize an answer that has been copied from another student.

Learn More about Tests, Surveys and Pools

Blackboard help has many resources about creating Tests, Surveys, and Pools.  In order to manage online tests, it is best to become familiar with the help documentation.  Help documentation can be found for Tests, Pools, and Surveys.

Advantages to Online Testing

Preparing an Online Test

  • It is important to be well versed in the possible settings available for both tests and test questions.  To learn more, visit the information about Tests, Pools, and Surveys..
  • Test length may vary and allow options as well as extra credit, but heed the previous warning about long tests as they could timeout due to Internet interruptions. 
  • The Audience can vary from Individuals to groups or teams.  Using Availability Exceptions or Adaptive Release, tests can be provided to different audiences with different due dates and testing times.  This proves to be handy for those who require accommodations.
  • Randomize Questions may be selected but be cautious of questions that are linked together. Make sure they are paired first, if needed, before randomizing question order.

Backup Plans (...and Printing How-to)

Faculty may want to consider bringing a printed copy of the test or answer key in case there is a technological issue. 

There are two options to print information from the Learning Management System,

Option 1: Formatting does not matter, as it is just a backup copy.

  • Just the test questions for student use:
    • Click on the title of the test to show it in preview mode. Click Begin. Right click on the frame where the test questions exist and click Print.
  • Test questions and answers:
    • Edit Test > Right click on the frame where the test questions exist and click Print.

Option 2: Formatting matters.

  • Contact someone with Respondus 4.0 (the LMS specialist has access to this) and request a file saved of your exam. This is fairly affordable solution if you need to purchase a copy for your department.  Please provide the Course ID, the name of the test, and what type of printout you require.  You can request any of the following layouts:
    • Questions and answer choices for student use.
      • (Do you need answer blanks?)
    • Questions and answer choices marked with asterisk for answer key.
      • Do you need feedback included?
    • A simple answer key without questions.

Facilitating or Proctoring an Online Test

Grading and Providing Feedback

If an error occurs, you may go to the grade book in Blackboard to clear the attempt. Find the student’s score for that exam. Right click on “View Grade Details” and then “Clear Attempt”. This will complete the delete the attempt and the student would begin from the start.


If you need further assistance with designing digital tests to meet course outcomes, please submit a Blackboard Consultation and/or Training request.


Article ID: 70028
Fri 1/11/19 10:31 AM
Wed 7/28/21 2:00 PM