Best Practices in Giving Online Tests

Giving your assessments via Blackboard can be convenient and time-saving, both for yourself and your students. When it comes to tests and quizzes (or any assessment given using the Tests course tool), there are a few things you should know before deciding how to utilize the Blackboard test tool. In this article, first we’ll cover some best practices for instructors wishing to use it in their courses. Also check out our page on Six Quick Tips to Reduce Cheating on Tests.

While students can take Blackboard tests using the Blackboard Student mobile app, not all test features are supported. Please see this link for more information about what can and cannot be used in a test that you expect students to take using the mobile app.

Don’t assume your students are technically savvy. It is a common assumption that most students are adept at using technology. In reality, they are not any more savvy about what to do when something goes wrong than anyone else. Any time you use technology in your teaching, it’s important to guide your students in its use.

Give your students clear instructions for how to prevent errors and what to do if something goes wrong. The most common problems encountered by students taking tests stem from using an unsupported web browser (Chrome and Firefox are the most stable browsers with Blackboard support), or taking the test on a wireless internet connection (wifi or mobile). For this reason, you should tell your students to take the test on a wired internet connection, if possible, and to use either Firefox or Chrome web browsers. You should also explicitly tell your students what to do if an error occurs–who they should contact first (we recommend the Help Desk), how and when they should contact you, and what information they should give you.We recommend putting the following information (or something similar) into your test’s Instructions field:

“It is highly recommended that you take this test using Firefox or Chrome, on a wired internet connection. If you experience an error or unexpected behavior while taking this test, please contact the Help Desk at 913-288-7479. If a technology problem prevents you from taking or completing this test, please contact your instructor as soon as possible and provide information about exactly when the error occurred, where you were located, what web browser you were using and what happened.” 

Some instructors also tell their students to take a screen-shot (or even a picture of the screen using their mobile phone camera) if there’s an error, and sending that as an email attachment to the instructor with the report of the error.

Think about how you will handle any problems that might arise. Many instructors are caught off guard by technical problems may occur when you give a test in Blackboard. These errors are not common, but they do crop up from time to time. Most often, what you’ll see is that a student has made a test attempt, but either there are no answers recorded, or only part of the test is complete. There are any number of reasons for this but generally these are due to honest mistakes. When such cases arise, we recommend taking the following steps:

Check the test access log: Each test attempt includes some more detailed information about when and how the test was taken. Sometimes this information makes it clear what went wrong, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Clear the test attempt: If you have your test set up to accept only a single attempt, a student who needs to re-take a test due to an error will not be able to. You may clear the attempt, which will delete it and allow the student to take the test again.

Use test availability exceptions: Every test given in Blackboard has the ability to be slightly tailored to individual students (this is also important for students with disability accommodations). A student who experienced an error while taking the test may need to have exceptions applied to her so that she can re-take it after the availability window has closed or to allow her multiple test attempts rather than a single attempt.

Understand Test Option Settings to minimize both technical problems and cheating. The Test Option Settings are what you set when you deploy the test (put it some place in your course that is accessible to students). They dictate how students take the test, during what timeframe, and with what test-taking parameters. You can always edit these settings even after you deploy a test, by opening the context menu for the test and selecting Edit the Test Options.

There are a few test option settings you should know more about when deciding how you want to deploy your test for best results.

  • Timer: Using the timer and setting it to a fairly strict estimate of how long students should need to take the test can be used to deter cheating, because looking up the answers takes extra time. Choose either “Auto-Submit ON” so that students cannot continue the test after the time is up,  or “Auto-Submit OFF” which will allow students to continue the test, but will flag their test attempt for you so that you know they went overtime.
  • Randomize Questions: All students will receive the same set of questions, but in random order. Paired with a one-question-at-a-time presentation, this reduces the ability of students to do the test together.

Using Test Item Pools: In addition to the Test tool, Blackboard also supports the creation of Test Item Pools. Loading questions into Pools greatly enhances your ability to prevent cheating by giving you the ability to create tests composed entirely of randomly-selected questions from a larger Pool. If you have a Pool of 50 questions, you can set up a test that draws 10 different questions entirely at random from the Pool, for every student. You can have multiple Pools, and draw from multiple Pools in a single test, so you may wish to categorize your questions into Pools, then draw a set number of random questions from each. This ensures that all students receive an equal number of questions from each category, but the exact set of questions each student receives will be unique. Pools can be exported and shared with colleagues, or copied to other courses. We recommend their use, particularly as a long-term project to continually collect and curate a set of high quality test items that can be deployed easily on tests. Learn more about this on the page Six Quick Tips to Reduce Cheating on Tests.