Exams and quizzes online

Last Updated: January 9, 2024
A man talks with someone on a video call

How this will help:

Determine if an exam best aligns with the course learning goals.
Structure your exam to be successful in an online setting.
Make informed choices about Canvas Quiz settings.

The basics

You may be comfortable with giving exams or tests in your residential classroom, but what about now in your online class? You may be wondering if you even should give an online exam. (A note about language: Canvas’ testing tool is called Quizzes. This tool can be used for high or low stakes testing, ungraded practice opportunities or even reflections and surveys. You can create any of these as a Quiz item, even though you may name it Exam, Final, Test, etc.)

First, reflect on why you are giving the exam. Exams are good for measuring objective knowledge, and multiple-choice questions make it easy to grade, but it’s not always the best for measuring deep learning. If you are new to online teaching, at least consider that there may be an alternative way to measure student progress. Think about projects, performances, portfolios and other similar authentic assessments.

Giving an exam outside the carefully controlled environment of a face-to-face classroom comes with a different set of challenges and assumptions, but can still be very useful in the classroom. If you’ve decided that you do want to give your students an online test there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Assume the test is open book. Write your questions to include more application and critical thinking skills and less memorization. If memorization is important, consider a tool like Problem Roulette. If you would like more information, check out this guide to open-book exams by the University of Newcastle Australia. 
  • Use quizzes for low-stakes measures of learning rather than high-stakes. Students are more likely to consider cheating in high-pressure assessments. If you are using exams/quizzes to measure knowledge – use it in a low-stakes way as a method of monitoring progress rather than making decisions.
  • Have a rationale for the quiz setting you choose. There are a lot of different settings in Canvas quizzes that can seem overwhelming, and it’s tempting to turn them all on. For example, creating a quiz with a narrow time window of 60 minutes and a deadline of midnight may seem like a well-intentioned way to control for academic integrity. Remember your students may have a slow or poor internet connection, or be in a different time zone. In addition, if students have a problem, you will probably be answering student questions at the last minute. Give students 24 hours in which they can complete their exam and a deadline that is friendly for your schedule.
  • Prepare your students
    • Quizzes and exams are stressful for your students too. Consider giving students a “no pressure” practice session where they go through the motions of taking and submitting an exam-without the content. This also gives you the opportunity to practice and see what the grading looks like, what types of questions arise, etc. Use a quiz as an informal way to survey student understanding rather than assigning a heavy percentage of course points.
    • Write test instructions for students that fully describe what’s going to happen. (Here’s an example of sample text)
    • Use the same instructions (and Quiz settings) for the practice session and actual exam.
    • Give students a guide to help prepare themselves for the quiz.


University of Michigan

ITS – Canvas Training

CAI – Student guide for taking quizzes in Canvas

Other Resources

Brigham Young University – 14 rules for writing multiple choice questions

Canvas Commons-

How do I take a quiz?

What are quizzes?

Quiz FAQ’s for faculty

University of Newcastle Australia – A Guide for Academics – Open Book Exams

Sample Test Instructions for Students:

Note to instructors: replace bracketed with your own information. 

Welcome to the [Final Exam for Course ABC]. This test consists of [50 multiple choice] questions. Each question is worth [2] points and the entire test is worth [20%] of your course grade.

Please note the following: 

  • You will have [1] attempt to complete the exam.
  • You will have [60] minutes to complete the exam. You will see a pop-up warning if you are running short on time. If you run out of time and have not submitted, your quiz will be automatically submitted.
    • Alternatively, you may leave your test untimed.
  • You will see [all/one] question(s) at a time.You [will/ will not] be able to change your answer after you have answered.
    • Alternatively, you can set the quiz so it shows all the questions in the same screen. This setting is personal preference.
  • After you complete all the questions you will press the Submit Quiz button. 

Take your time and good luck!