Final Exams for Unusual Times

Concordia University Wisconsin Ann Arbor
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
April 27, 2020

For a 40 minute video presenting most of these ideas on a Zoom call with faculty from the School of Business on April 24 click here.

Final Exams for Unusual Times

Stay the Course

If you have a final exam on your syllabus, keep some type of remote exam rather than change the assignment too much as of this point in the semester. There are many options for exams beyond the traditional timed, exam opened only during your course’s final exam time.

Many of our students are experiencing challenges with internet connections at home, some due to low bandwidth or many people using it at the same time. This article makes suggestions on all the options available, including alternatives that might not be as difficult or stress-producing for students with technology challenges.

Review your course learning outcomes and identify which outcomes your final exam will address. Remember to match the types of questions with the verbs used in your outcomes.  Review the outcomes your exam addresses with students during the final week of the course.

As always, after you develop your plan for your final exam, be sure to communicate that plan in advance with students in writing. The Registrar develops a final exam schedule that is communicated to all faculty. Faculty members may not change the date or time of their final exam, or the due date for a final project or paper.  The final must either be offered within the designated 2-hour time slot listed in the final exam schedule, or if converted into a take-home test, be due by that time.

Communicate with Students

Post information on your exam in your Blackboard course site as soon as you can. Indicate your expectations for the exam include time limits, whether or not students can use books, or notes, or not. Also indicate whether students are allowed to work together on the exam or if they are prohibited from doing so.

If you are using timed exams,  send a reminder the day before the exam and suggest students ask for support from others in their household during the test time to facilitate a good internet connection.  Students can  ask others to reduce use of a shared internet connection during the time of the test. Include suggestions for minimizing distraction such as: find a private space, close the door, ask others to leave them alone, silence notifications and cell phones. Remind students also of your expectations communicated in your Blackboard site.

Connect with the Academic Resource Center on any accessibility or accommodation issues or testing needs for students with accommodations.



Conventional Wisdom suggests that exams are to be offered in secure environments to prevent cheating.  In other semesters, it has been easier to create such an environment by giving exams in a physical classroom.  This semester, we are forced to make alternative plans for final exams.

For remote tests in Blackboard, the most secure option is proctoring with Respondus Monitor. This requires students to download and use Lockdown Browser and have a video camera and microphone attached to their computer. The browser students use to access the exam in Blackboard does not allow the student to open other windows or copy or print.  Faculty should notify students at minimum one-week before the test so students can download the software and be ready. Faculty should include a practice test using Monitor in the Blackboard site to facilitate student preparation.

Details on Respondus Monitor include a recorded session from March located here along with the handout. Information to share with students is here

Features of Tests in Blackboard

Remote tests in Blackboard not using Respondus Monitor can also use be secured through test features.

  • Overall time limits can be used to prevent students from looking up a great number of the answers.
  • Individual questions cannot be timed, but a test can be split into parts, each with its own time limit.
  • Randomize test questions and/or randomize multiple-choice responses.

Instructions for creating a Blackboard test are located here Advance to about 25% of the way into the recording. More information about Blackboard tests is available on the CELT blog.

Use Zoom to Observe Students Taking the Test

If you are offering your test during a short window, students could take the exam in Blackboard while also connecting with you and the class on Zoom. You can see everyone on the same Zoom window if you have no more than 25 students.  You will not be able to see if they have papers or notes, but if you have prohibited those, this option will give you the opportunity to observe their faces.  Some students may feel heightened anxiety at “being watched.”

Using Zoom on a Second Device to Observe Students Taking the Test

If students have a second device like a phone, they could prop it up so that it observes their keyboard and work area during the exam.

Unconventional Wisdom in these times suggests using alternate, non-timed exam formats that still effectively evaluate student learning.  Check out these five reasons not to use timed exams at this time

  • Open-book or Take-home test – Convert your final exam to an open-book or take-home test. Adjust your exam questions to accommodate a longer time to work on the exam, but don’t make it a test-and-a-half. Be sure that the questions aim at higher levels on Bloom’s taxonomy, lining up with course-level outcomes. For example, you could use case studies or ask students to respond to a problem using particular critical thinking strategies you have taught.  You could request that references to course resources and supporting evidence be included.
  • Alternative Blackboard Assignment: Create a take-home exam with prompts that students write to in a word document. Make the exam available during the last week of class. Then create an Assignment (dropbox) in Blackboard so students can upload their responses. If you are using a percentage-based Grade Center, you may need to adjust it.  For example, students could be asked to identify and explain five critical concepts learned in your class, supported with evidence and citations.

How to Get Help


If you need help with accessing or using Zoom, call the HELP Desk at x4357 or e-mail


If you need help with Blackboard, additional information is available Here or contact the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at (provide information on what you are hoping to do) or call 262-243-2358, and leave a detailed voice message if no one is available.


For More Information:

IDEA Paper #76 Writing Better Essay Exams

Waterloo University Tips for Writing Exam Questions

Rutgers University’s specific, practical tips for going open-book in quantitative courses:

Indiana University Bloomington’s suggestions for adapting assessments:

UC Berkeley’s list of ideas for alternative assignment types:

University of Wisconsin Extended Campus: Unproctored Online Assessments

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