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Exams, alternative exams and alternatives to exams

In this post, we take a look at what teachers are doing here at ANU to try to find solutions for assessing in online environments. During lockdown we especially need to consider levels of stress and anxiety for both students and teaching staff along with academic integrity. The current student and staff experience has led to some academics reconsidering assessment types, structures and marking processes.

There are two key options: online exams and authentic assessment.

Online Exam options

When considering exams, it is always useful to think about what specific skill set and level of knowledge you wish to assess. Referring back to your course learning outcomes can be helpful. Reflect on whether an ‘unseen’ exam (where students have no prior knowledge of the exam questions nor access to materials relevant to them), that needs invigilation, is the best or only effective form of assessment. If it is required by a particular profession for accreditation purposes, or there is definitely no other way of effectively assessing the learning outcomes, there are options for online invigilated exams.

The options available for exams in an online environment can be placed into these main categories:

  • Remotely proctored exams
  • Open book exams
  • Take home exams

ANU researcher Professor Susan Howitt, Associate Director Education at the Research School of Biology, has kindly allowed us to share her presentation on Exam Design (23 minutes) delivered during a recent workshop held by CLT. In this presentation, she provides practical examples taken from different courses taught by her colleagues, that give us some ideas about using Wattle (Moodle) and Turnitin tools to help with online assessment and exams, whether ‘unseen’ or open book.

As part of the workshop, Dr Joseph Hughes, Education Design Manager at CLT, gave participants some provocations to consider. Listen to his talk about an effective assessment experience to help you with ideas on some additional aspects about assessment.

Interested in following up some ideas on exam design? You will find articles and tip sheets on the Exam Design page on the Teaching at ANU SharePoint site.

Authentic assessment options

As well as ways to conduct exams online, we have seen a great deal of discussion about transitioning from exams to authentic assessments requiring individual or collaborative creativity, thought and productivity. ‘Authentic’ assessments usually refer to assessments around real life or simulated tasks. There is no limit to the types of assessment activities these may include, but some examples are:

  • Tasks that are similar to or mirror typical tasks in a workplace relevant to the field of study, such as production of an artefact or service, reports, analyses, literature searches and summaries.
  • Collaborative projects, that continue through a whole course, are assessed in stages and are suitable for assessing individual as well as team effort and achievement.
  • Scenarios with real world problems to solve using problem based learning techniques.
  • Reflective ePortfolios showcasing the student’s development, level of skill and achievement.
  • Quizzes that are progressed through the course that include higher as well as lower levels of cognition, including formative and summative components.

These options of course could be combined in one assessment or assessment series.

Interested in following up some ideas on authentic assessment? You will find links to articles on the Exam Design page in the Teaching at ANU SharePoint site.

The Model for Transforming Assessment H5P presentation contains, along with the model, examples of different types of assessments for the ‘Covid era’, relevant sources and references provided by Professors Sally Brown and Kay Sambell. Help is available!

It can seem overwhelming when you’re busy to try to a rapid transformation of assessment. You can achieve some of this change incrementally over time, but sometimes there is some urgency to take a different approach. There are many online sources of help, including the Exam Design and other pages on assessment, feedback and academic integrity, on our Teaching at ANU SharePoint site.

One resource that may be of assistance to those considering Wattle quizzes with automated marking and/or feedback, is Rowena Tayler-Henry’s (ANU College of Science) Wattle course on Quiz Building. This site contains beautiful worked examples and some tutorials on different types of quiz set ups.

If you would like one-on-one assistance to rethink your assessment structure, or to re-design an individual assessment CLT’s Education Design team are available for consultations. We will work with you to try to find what is possible within any limitations or concerns you might have.

Email us at eddesign@anu.edu.au and someone will be in touch!

September 2021


Jill Lyall is an Education Designer in the Education Design team at the Centre for Learning and Teaching.

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