Online (MCQ-type) Tests for Time-limited Exams - first steps.

This article describes how to use Blackboard Tests to run an online examination. It contains recommendations based on the experience of those who have done so in the past and official documentation from Blackboard. Details are available in our Recommendations Document. (login required). This document also contains a Risk Matrix which aims to help you consider the risks in this process and to plan for contingencies.

NUI Galway does not have a dedicated enterprise-level online assessment and examination system. It is possible to run assessments online using Blackboard, but there are a number of limitations and risks  which would apply both to high stakes testing in general and in particular to the current COVID-19 situation.  

Key Preliminary Points

There are four general level recommendations/observations for using this tool in the current context:

  • There are serious issues regarding the integrity and security of online tests. It is important to understand this, both in the design of the questions you may set, and in the management of the examination process. Students will be able to access materials online, on their computer, or on their phones, and be in contact  with one another during the assessment/exam. General advice from the  National Forum (and others) is to provide a tight time limit, and to consider randomising the order of questions presented to the students to reduce some of the potential for collusion/copying, as well as including an honour declaration.  
  •  Ensure that you have a back-up plan for any students who have issues  connecting or running the test. This might be simply a Word version of your test ready for students to download which they can complete, and either upload or email on completion. Be prepared to switch to this back-up plan when necessary rather than try to troubleshoot individual problems during a live exam, particularly if you are not experienced  with the system.
  •  Make sure that any online test functionality  has been tested by you (in the role of a student) and that students have  an opportunity to try out the test functionality within Blackboard  before the examination date. This could be a sample test, or a self-study test as part of the course. A further related issue is the connectivity and available technologies for the individual students  taking such tests. We know that there is significant variability in  broadband access, quality of wifi, type of hardware they have at their  disposal, etc. Hence,  is crucial.
  •  Running assessments on  this scale (in terms of the number of exams, number of students, and  the number of assessments running simultaneously) has never been done  before.  All online services are under pressure at the current time, and  Blackboard is supporting many institutions across Europe and beyond on its servers. Some online services have already experienced problems (MS Teams, Collaborate, etc) in recent weeks and although the service  providers are committed to increasing available bandwidth there can be  no guarantees