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Finals Exams and Complex Assessments 

Part 2: Building the Exam

November 18, 2020

How to Use this Series

This Deeper Dive article series is broken up into 3 parts to help  guide you in the development of your final exam:

  1. Planning the Exam
  2. Building the Exam
  3. Ensuring Integrity in the Exam

If you would like to work with an instructional designer or educational specialist to strategize for your specific course, you are welcome to join us for open office hours or request an individual consultation.

Crafting Exam Questions

[link to this section: crafting exam questions]

As you craft questions for an online final exam, the goal is to require students to apply their knowledge, combine course concepts, or justify their reasoning. This will provide you with maximal information about what the students have learned over the course of the term.

Here are a few techniques that you might consider as you craft exam questions: 

  • Create questions in which students might be able to look up some aspects of the answers, but they will need to be able to manipulate that knowledge appropriately to be successful on the exam
  • Provide a unique graph, image, data set or scenario, and ask the students to conduct an analysis and respond to questions
  • Provide a workflow or solution, and ask students to spot-the-error, identify missing information or select relevant information for a solution from a set
  • Ask students to draw answers to questions (e.g. draw a force diagram, genetic model, or chemical reaction starting at a specific step)
  • Ask students to reason through their choices:
    • Explain your reasoning...
    • Describe the best approach, and justify...
    • Explain how... would affect...
  • Build on existing work and demonstrate improvement from the beginning of the term
  • Allow students to reflect on their process, a personal challenge, or an interest in a specific topic
  • Provide insight into the students’ metacognition:
    • What resources did you use that you found to be the most helpful, and why?
    • What resources did you use that turned out not to be helpful and why?
    • Now that this final exam is completed, how will you prepare for the next course?
  • Provide an image, statement, or conclusion, and ask the students to interpret the findings

Converting in-person Exams to Remote Exams

[link to this section: converting in-person exams]

Let’s be honest, you likely have some sort of exam strategy that you have used in a face-to-face environment, which you would like to convert to the remote or online environment. Here’s a simple “translation” table that you can use:

Face-to-Face Exams Format

Options for Translating to Remote Format

Blue book style, where students write responses to a specific prompt

Canvas Assignment, with the prompt in the instructions

Consider using Turnitin

Written Exam, where students work through scientific problems

Gradescope Assignment

Standard question and answer, with multiple exam versions

Canvas Quiz

  • Use multiple question groups to randomize versions of individual questions, OR
  • Use a question group to randomly select a subset of questions for each student

Student Presentations

Submit Videos or Slides:

  • Canvas Assignment (visible to instructor/TA only)
  • Canvas Discussion (visible to all class members)
  • Zoom (synchronous presentation) + Canvas Assignment (record score)

Students pick one of a set of prompts, and write to that prompt

Canvas Assignment

Include all prompts in the instructions, and have students indicate, at the top of their response, which prompt they are responding to


Scaling Online Exams for Large Courses

[link to this section: scaling online exams]

With some strategic design, you can streamline the process of conducting an online final exam for a large course. In all honesty, there is no way to eliminate the amount of work, but you can reduce the time it will take to score and respond to student questions. Here are a few key tips to conduct an online exam in a large course:

Provide Clear Instructions

This is even more important with a large course. If possible, have a colleague or student read through the exam and highlight anything that is confusing or incomplete

Incorporate Rubrics

Establish clear standards for student responses / grades, and incorporate the rubrics in Canvas or Gradescope

Explore question types in Canvas Quizzes

There are a variety of non-multiple-choice, but auto-graded questions in Canvas Quizzes. Explore the options, and incorporate more complex questions in the quiz

Randomize Questions

Use the capabilities of Canvas quizzes to randomize questions so that each student receives a unique final exam (but Canvas reduces the grading load)

Practice Exams or Study Questions

Create a practice final exam, or a set of study questions, which prepare students for the types of questions they will see on the final exam, and allows them to experience the technological setup that will be implemented on the final exam

Encourage Use of Office Hours

Encourage students to come to office hours, and work through the sample questions with an instructional assistant or teaching assistant. This will help them avoid solidifying misconceptions or erroneous workflows


Tie Exams Directly to Course Concepts and Learning Outcomes

Particularly in a large course, the final exam should be directly tied to the materials that the students have seen or worked through previously. The types of questions that exist on the exam should not be a surprise

Technology Options

[link to this section: tech options]

Canvas provides a variety of options for conducting an online exam. At UC San Diego, we have access to a number of additional tools that are available within Canvas. It can be confusing to determine which tool(s) to utilize for the final exam. In addition to the comparison below, you are welcome to reach out to the Teaching + Learning Commons to strategize about which tool(s) might be most appropriate for your exam.


Canvas Quizzes


Canvas Assignments

  • Student Interaction: Prompt is available at specified day/time, students work independently, and submit deliverable (e.g. document, presentation, video)
  • How to Access:   Click Assignments in the Canvas course menu
  • Grading Options:  Access submissions through SpeedGrader, provide in-text feedback, score using a rubric (if entered), and provide assignment-level feedback
  • Special Considerations: You can connect an assignment to TurnItIn to have student submissions automatically reviewed. Results of the TurnItIn review will be available within either SpeedGrader or the Canvas Gradebook



  • Student Interaction: Template is available at a specified day / time, students access template, handwrite problems (or write code), and submit either scans or photographs of their work or typed responses
  • How to Access:  Click Gradescope in the Canvas course menu
    Note: If this is not available, open the course settings, click Navigation and enable Gradescope
  • Grading Options:  You can incorporate a rubric with each question, and you can score individual questions at a time (e.g. question 1 in all submissions)



  • Student Interaction:  Prompt is provided beforehand, students respond to prompt and upload document to TurnItIn-enabled Canvas Assignment; submission is checked against literature and student submission database, and an originality score is returned (if allowed by instructor, student can access originality score)
  • How to Access:  Click Assignments in the Canvas course menu, within an assignment settings, under Plagiarism Review, click the dropdown and select Turnitin .
  • Grading Options:  You can use either SpeedGrader, or TurnItIn’s Feedback Studio to provide in-text feedback, assignment-level feedback, and rubric-based scoring

Continue Reading | Part 3: Ensuring Integrity in the Exam →