Three Approaches to Delivering Online Exams

When designing an exam for students in a Flexible Hybrid Environment, the following considerations are paramount:

Here are three approaches to delivering exams online without using a fee-for-service online proctoring option:

  • Unproctored, open-book exams.
  • Exams using Blackboard assessment tools.
  • Proctoring exams during a live Zoom session.

Unproctored, Open-Book Exams

With this option, students take the open-book exam and submit their completed exam via email or on Blackboard (see how to create an assignment in Blackboard).


  • It is a low tech solution. It is the least technologically challenging for faculty and students. It has the lowest hardware and bandwidth requirements.
  • It is most accessible.
  • This option may also be the most pedagogically rich option in that an open-ended series of questions that focus on student discovery and reflection are difficult to cheat/plagiarize on.

Other tips for unproctored open-book exams:

  • Create a large pool of questions, and randomize the subset and order of multiple choice and short answer questions for each student.
  • Include questions that call on higher order thinking skills.
  • Take other steps to guard against temptation and to give students the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.

Exams Using Blackboard Assessment Tools

With this option the Instructor uploads the test in Blackboard and the student accesses the test and submits the completed test from within Blackboard.


  • Blackboard is a standard tool at Fordham, most instructors have access to it and are already familiar with it.


  • It is more technologically involved for instructors, as it requires uploading and formatting the test in Blackboard.
  • It may create accessibility barriers for some students. Blackboard allows for a variety of testing conditions, however, the stringency of testing conditions may negatively affect accessibility. For example, enabling backtracking may create challenges for many students.

Tips on improving accessibility for students:

  • When possible, exams within Blackboard should be formatted to display the full exam on one screen (all at once). This allows students to see the exam in full and plan their time accordingly. Instead of enabling backtracking, you should display the exam all at once. Blackboard Test Settings-Accessibility considerations.

Here is guidance from Fordham’s Office of Disability Services (ODS):
It has been brought to our attention that students are having some difficulties completing online exams for a number of reasons: some are located in different time zones, some are living in conditions that are not conducive to test taking, some have poor internet connectivity and some are having difficulties due to the way that the exams are presented. The first three reasons are self-explanatory, while the fourth may need some explanation. These issues are impacting many students, not just the students registered with ODS.

Many students are stating that navigating an online exam is time consuming, particularly if a student needs to go back to a previous page - it takes time to reload the page and the answers. On a pen-and-paper exam, students can go back and forth easily and plan their time accordingly since they can see the entire exam before beginning it. Professors really need to display all at once. ODS received many calls related to this issue in the spring, not just from students registered with disabilities. It really presents a major issue for multiple reasons.

Additional resources for creating tests in Blackboard:

Proctoring Exams During a Live Zoom Session

With this option, instructors proctor exams via Zoom. This involves the students having the video conferencing tool running while they take their exam, and allows the instructor to see (as much as possible) whether students are a) asking others for help, b) leaving the room or c) looking in different directions.


  • It is a high tech solution. It is technologically involved for students and faculty. It requires specific hardware and bandwidth and technical proficiency.
  • It may create accessibility barriers for some students.
  • The video conferencing experience will be closely tied with the bandwidth of the instructor and students. Utilizing bandwidth for Zoom, and other websites running at the same time (like Blackboard) may increase the likelihood of slow response times and being disconnected from the Zoom or Blackboard sessions.
  • If students are in different time zones, this may not be the best solution for the class.


  • This solution is a good alternative because it emulates the in-person experience of a proctored exam.
  • This approach may deter unapproved behaviors/actions during exams.
  • It employs the “trust” based model, which most faculty and students prefer.
  • Zoom is a standard tool at Fordham, all instructors have access to it and most instructors are now familiar with it.
  • It may not raise the anxiety level for students compared to online fee-per-service proctoring tools.
  • It does not bring with it privacy issues associated with fee-per-service online proctoring tools.
  • Students may have less of a concern with their faculty monitoring them rather than a stranger or the mechanics of a fee-per-service Artificial Intelligence.
  • The Artificial Intelligence in some fee-per-service proctoring tools has been known to flag “false positives.”

Technical Requirements and Tips:

  • Both the instructor and the students should use the desktop versions of these services rather than the app on their phones.
  • Both the instructor and the students should be in an area with little to no background noises, free of distractions (if possible). If this is not possible, they should mute themselves so as not to distract other test takers.
  • Both the instructor and the students will need:
    • A webcam (Include in the syllabus that students will be required to turn on their cameras on during exams)
    • A microphone
    • Sound output via headset or earbuds
    • A strong Internet connection
  • The student’s computer should have only one display monitor.