Conduct exams via Canvas

The information here is part of a series intended to help instructors Keep teaching during prolonged campus or building closures.

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Moving a high-stakes exam, such as a final, online is more than simply a change in delivery method. The online environment affords you certain advantages but, of course, also comes with some disadvantages. See below for information and guidance to make the best decision for your course.

Modify an exam for online administration

It is often a good idea to modify an exam before giving it online. A common concern with online exams is the opportunity for academic misconduct. There are a number of ways to discourage misconduct, many of which are mentioned below. Two of the best are to compose your exam primarily of open-ended questions (such as long or short essay questions), and to turn the exam into a project (for example, a presentation or study guide).

Asking students to produce a piece of writing or media means that each artifact will be unique. Students will also likely deepen their understanding of the subject, because they will have to use higher-order thinking to synthesize the content. If your course outcomes contain words such as "apply", "analyze", "evaluate", or "create", then modifying your exam to open-ended questions or changing it to a project is likely the best solution.

Choose between Quizzes and Assignments

Canvas Quizzes have different features than Assignments. Assignments are often a simpler solution; however, you should use Quizzes if you want to:

  • Restrict when students can see and work on the exam, and how much time they can spend on it (in minutes or hours).
  • Show different questions or sets of questions to different students.
  • Show students only one question at a time (for example, because a question would give them a "hint" to an earlier question).
  • Award points based on specific questions, rather than in a lump sum.
  • Give students automated feedback on their responses.

Quiz features

If you decide to use a Canvas Quiz for your exam, you may find the following features useful.

Set durations

You can set two durations in Canvas Quizzes:

  • Time limit: How long students are allowed to see exam questions and respond to them
  • Availability: The window of time students have access to the exam

If you have students who require additional time on an exam (for example, time and a half), you will need to modify the time limit with the Moderate this Quiz link; see Provide students extended time for testing in Canvas Quizzes.


Creating a time limit can discourage cheating by reducing students' chances to look up answers. Restricting the availability window discourages students from peer-sharing. However, these constraints can place enormous strain on students who have limited internet access or physical space in which to take the exam.

Based on her recent research at Indiana University, Dr. Jessica Calarco suggests making an exam available to students for 72 hours, ideally overlapping with your class's specified final exam time, in order to account for potential connectivity or logistical issues and time zone differences.

Use Question Banks or Groups

Quizzes can be set up to generate a unique exam for each student by pulling questions from a Question Bank (a collection of questions). You can link Question Banks to a quiz by adding a Question Group for each bank; this effectively makes "sections" in your quiz. Each Question Group lets you specify how many questions to pull from its linked Question Bank and the point value for those questions.


Using Question Banks can reduce copying or sharing answers because each student's quiz will consist of a different, randomly selected and ordered set of questions. In fact, you can even use Question Banks for essay exams or the essay section of an exam.

The downside of Question Banks is that, to be effective against cheating, you need a large pool of questions. This can require a great deal of effort to create. One way to lighten this load is to share Question Banks with a colleague teaching the same course. Your department may also already have Question Banks for exams.

Pedagogically, the biggest concern is ensuring that most questions in a bank are of similar difficulty and of a similar type. For example, if essay questions are mixed with multiple-choice questions in a bank, there is a chance that one student will only get essay questions while another student will only get multiple-choice. To avoid this, place similar question types into different banks. You may also break questions into banks by subject area (for example, "Chapter 7 multiple-choice questions" and "Chapter 7 essay questions"), if you need that level of granularity.

Display questions one at a time

You can set up a Quiz to display questions one at a time, and prevent students from going back to previous questions, with the Lock questions after answering option. This can be useful for asking a series of procedural questions, where students are supposed to learn a specific order, or when questions may hint at the correct answer to a previous question (for example, diagnostic questions where each question includes diagnostic data from the previous question).


Human memory is fluid, and taking exams frequently evokes a stress response that negatively impacts many people's ability to recall information that they otherwise could. A common technique students use to accommodate for that stress, and to better manage exam time, is to read over the whole exam first, then go back and answer questions. Presenting questions one at a time impedes this strategy, and Lock questions after answering imposes a fixed order that students must follow. Consider whether your course outcomes require that linearity. Giving students autonomy can reduce their test anxiety.

Award points by question

Another feature that distinguishes Quizzes from Assignments is that the point value of a Quiz is the sum of each question's points, whereas an assignment is one lump value. Functionally, if you want to change how much a Quiz is worth, you will have to change the point value of its questions; by default, questions are worth 1 point.


Like on a paper exam, awarding more or fewer points for different questions communicates to your students what you think is most important. Test-savvy students will note these differences and spend the most time where they can earn the most points, so finding an accurate representation of what you value is more important than making the point total a round number (for example, 100 points). Keep in mind that Canvas automatically calculates percentages and can easily be set up to weigh exams and assignments differently, so your gradebook can still be accurate without forcing questions in, taking them out, or assigning unusual point values (for example, 1.43 points).

Give automated feedback

Quizzes also allow for automated feedback on a question-by-question basis, giving you the option to include feedback for some questions but not others. You can also choose when feedback is shown (for example, after the exam window has closed). Automated feedback can be as granular as you'd like; for example, on a multiple choice question, you can provide different responses for correct and incorrect answers, or even a unique response for each incorrect option.


Providing automated feedback is generally less useful for exams because it's too late for a student to demonstrate that they learned from that feedback. Instead, automated feedback is most useful for low-stakes quizzes to redirect students when they answer incorrectly, so they can perform better on higher-stakes projects or exams.

If you do choose to provide automated feedback, it is a good idea to set the feedback not to display until after the exam window has closed. Otherwise, students who have completed the exam and received feedback may share that feedback with classmates.

Quiz instructions

When teaching online, you should assume your students only know what you have typed. With this in mind, include the following details in the quiz instructions to make your expectations explicit:

What materials can/should I have available?

  • Open book: [YES/NO]
  • Open note: [YES/NO]
  • Consult classmates or peers: [YES/NO]
  • Consult internet or other resources: [YES/NO]

What technological requirements are needed to complete this exam?

  • [Enter any necessary software/hardware; examples below]
  • Canvas via an internet browser (such as Chrome or Firefox)
  • Consistent internet connection
  • Webcam and microphone

What if I have technological issues during the exam?

If you have questions about or issues with any of the technology used in this course, please contact your campus Support Center.

Learn more

For more on creating and managing Quizzes, see the following Canvas resources:

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Last modified on 2021-09-22 13:28:18.