Exam Alternatives for Remote Teaching

COVID-19 and Alternative Institutional Operating Procedures have thrown us all for a loop and here we are marching steadily toward final exams. If you’re feeling unsure of how to assess your students’ learning this semester, you’ll find some ideas ranging from “easy to implement from scratch” to “a bit more challenging, but potentially useful adaptations of existing assignments.” Consider suggesting your own alternative assessments in the comments below or add them to the COD Faculty Guide to Remote Teaching Best Practices & All Around Good Ideas. We’ll update this guide with good ideas as we get them!

Finally, as you consider your final exams for this semester, consider this recommendation from Rutgers University’s Tips for Exams and Alternative Assessments:

“Your learning goals are an excellent place to start when considering alternative assessments: what do you hope students will be able to do by the end of your course, and in what ways can they demonstrate what they know?”

HOT TIP! Develop a contribution to the Library Student Research Symposium – The Student Research Symposium is online this year and represents an excellent opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge in a professional setting.


Ideas for Exam Alternatives

✴️ Fact sheet or pamphlet – This option could be designed with an outside reader in mind: fact sheets for consumers or investors, etc. ; pamphlets for tourists, customers, etc.

✴️ Series of quizzes – Instead of relying on a single high-stakes exam, take some pressure of yourself and your students by using a series of low-stakes quizzes to assess students’ mastery of the course outcomes.

✴️ Student-developed quiz questions – In order to create a quiz question, students must draw upon their knowledge and understanding of course materials, in effect, quizzing themselves in the process!

✴️ Short oral exams – The University of Oregon has these suggestions:

  • Create a list of topics covered in the course and have all students be prepared to explain any of the topics in two-five minutes. 
  • Randomly assign topics to students, allow them a few minutes to gather their thoughts, and then use Collaborate (or call) to respond or have them upload an audio or video recording to canvas.  
  • Give students a list of possible oral exam questions and allow them to use notes and other resources to prepare responses for each. In a Collaborate or phone interview with the instructor, each student has five minutes to respond orally to one question chosen at random. 

✴️ Open-book assessments – Open book tests have a bad rap, but they have the potential to both challenge students and reduce the value of cheating. Read more at “Why Open-book Tests Deserve a Place in Your Courses

✴️ Student presentations, posters, infographics, or demonstrations – Provide your students with some flexibility and creative options in demonstrating their understanding of course outcomes. Regardless of the final project, ask students to explain how their contribution demonstrates mastery. Reach out to WRSA and the Library’s Media Lab for assistance in multimodal project creation.

✴️ Annotated anthology or bibliography – Consider annotated projects “everything but the research paper,” allowing you to assess students’ higher-order abilities to evaluate sources, compare multiple perspectives, and provide rationales for their choices.

✴️ Peer- and self- review activity – “These allow for personal reflection on learning and peer-to-peer instruction, both of which reinforce and deepen understanding. Students do need instruction in the task of providing constructive feedback. Targeted rubrics laying out expectations for student work are very helpful” (Rutgers University)

✴️ E-Portfiolio – E-portfolios facilitate, document, and archive student learning, while providing students an opportunity to reflect on their learning arc through the semester. Students may use Google Sites, WordPress or other free online tools to collect and reflect on their work. Learn more from Berkeley’s Center for Teaching and Learning

✴️ Non-traditional paper or project – Reach out to your librarian for assistance in developing an alternative research project such as the “Un-Research” paper (Hosier, 2015).

✴️ Group project – Tufts University has the following recommendations: “Online collaborations allow ideas to be tested and evaluated by peers and experts alike.  Encourage student collaboration with the same online tools you use to teach the course. Groups can be created in [Blackboard], and assignments, or discussions, can be assigned to a group. Encourage or assign groups to meet regularly via Zoom [or Collaborate].” For more ideas, see this article on group projects from Inside Higher Ed


Additional Resources


Image: “So you need to put your exam online?” by Giulia Forsythe is available under a CC BY license

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