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Guide to conducting written exams online

The information provided in this guide should not be viewed as a set of rules, but rather as a list of suggestions to be adapted to each specific situation. 

  • The conditions for conducting written exams set out in the “regulations on taking exams via electronic means of communication​​​​​​​” (Ordnung zur Regelung von Prüfungen in elektronischer Kommunikation) apply.
  • The content, standard and duration of the online exam must correspond to those of the conventional version of the exam.
  • In order to realise written exams online, it is necessary to set up a video conference for invigilation purposes and to select a learning platform on which to conduct the exam.
  • To this end, appropriate software solutions must be selected, e.g. Cisco WebEx (video conference) and ILIAS/moodle (learning platform).
  • All those involved must possess the technical capabilities to participate in an online written exam: PC/laptop/tablet with a camera, microphone and sufficient power supply, proven stable Internet access.
  • Each candidate must be alone in the exam room, which may only have one entrance. This exam room may be in the home of the candidate.
  • All those involved must contribute to ensuring that the exam is not disrupted (no telephone calls/visitors, etc.).
  1. There must be one invigilator for every 20 candidates. This invigilator is responsible for realising and supervising steps 4 – 8 during the video conference. It is recommended that at least three invigilators are involved and that they use different providers in case of connection problems.
  2. The candidate will be notified of the formalities (e.g. duration, permitted resources, necessary measures to ensure a secure environment) and required technical equipment for the online written exam in good time (usually no later than one week before the exam).
  3. All those involved must familiarise themselves with the tools and go through the exam procedure before the exam itself begins. This also applies to what to do in the event of technical issues (see below).
  4. At the start of the exam, the candidate needs to demonstrate that they are alone in the room and that there are no resources or aids nearby by turning the camera around to show the entire room. To this end, each invigilator may set up a separate virtual space within the video conference and invite students into this space one by one to conduct the check. The attendance list may be shared via a cloud solution (e.g. PhilCloud) so it is visible to all and individuals ticked off once they have been checked to ensure there are no duplicate checks.
  5. Before the start of the exam, the candidate should also show their official photo ID and (where necessary) their student ID card to prove their identity.
  6. The camera must show the closed door(s) and the candidate throughout the exam.
  7. Do not share the password for the exam until immediately beforehand. Candidates must log in before step 8.
  8. The candidate must photograph their field of view at the start of the exam using their mobile phone/digital camera and show the image display to the webcam to prove that no resources/aids are positioned adjacent to the camera. The photo must show that the candidate has logged into the learning platform.
  • Microphones should be switched off throughout the exam. If all students leave their microphones on, this may cause disruptions. From hissing microphones to loud noises from adjacent rooms/apartments and construction sites, unwanted background noise is much more likely to cause disruption than would be the case during an in-person exam. Where it is important to ensure that students do not talk to other people in the room, it can be stipulated that the camera should be angled to show all movement of their mouth.
  • If students need to go to the toilet during an online exam, they should inform the invigilator via the private chat function. The invigilator should keep detailed records during the exam and note such occurrences in these records. Where there are multiple invigilators present in an exam, it is a good idea to store such records in a cloud solution to enable all invigilators to edit the same document. If this is not possible due to technical problems, each invigilator should keep their own records, which must then be compared and collated after the exam.
  • As either the first or last task in the exam, you should ask the candidate to submit a confirmation and/or declaration of independent authorship, e.g. “I confirm that I have completed the exam independently and that I have not used any resources/aids other than those permitted.”
  • Once the exam is over, the candidate should leave the video conference.
  • Candidates, examiners, observers and record-takers are not permitted to record online exams.
  • In the event that the examiner suspects an attempt to cheat, the measures to ensure a secure exam environment (see above) may be repeated.
  • If an attempt to cheat is confirmed without doubt, the corresponding legal consequences set out in the exam regulations apply. The candidate should be excluded from all online exams and the incident reported to the chair of the examining board.
  • In the event that an Internet connection fails, the exam must be resumed as quickly as possible. On the moodle platform, the exam clock will continue to run and cannot be stopped. Consequently, the duration of the connection failure is key when it comes to deciding whether and how to continue. An extra 5 – 10 minutes should be added to the exam clock when setting up the exam to accommodate such incidents. The exam clock can be extended on an individual basis in ILIAS.
  • In the event of longer/multiple connection failures, the exam should be stopped and repeated at a later date/time. Before the start of the exam, the candidate should be told to e-mail the examiner without delay in the event of longer/multiple connection failures. If technical problems resulting in a further stoppage also occur during the second attempt to complete the exam online, the exam should be taken in person following the resumption of normal operations at HHU.
  • The type, scope and duration of all disruptions during the exam must be recorded in the exam protocol.

In order to test whether students have reached the basic levels of “remember and understand” (according to Bloom), “single-choice” exams with one correct answer option or “multiple-choice” exams with several correct answer options should be used.

  • To reduce the probability of a student passing an exam simply by guessing single-/multiple-choice answers correctly, we recommend increasing 1) the number of distractors (incorrect answer options) and 2) the number of questions.
  • To reduce the probability of a student passing single-/multiple-choice exams simply through test-wiseness, it is important to ensure that the following typical errors are avoided when preparing questions and answer options as they provide candidates with hints about the correct answer or aid the exclusion of distractors:
    • Inclusion of a direct opposite of the correct answer
    • Placement of the correct answer in the middle of a list of values (e.g. by including higher and lower years around the correct answer)
    • Difference between the length and complexity of the correct answer and the distractors
    • Overgeneralisation such as “always”, “all” or “never” in the distractors
    • Convergence (e.g. parts of the correct answer are also used for the distractors – the answer option with the “greatest common denominator” is then often the correct one)
    • Grammatical matching of answer options to the question
    • Verbal associations (e.g. key terms appear in both the question and the answer)
  • The following points should also be observed when preparing questions and answer options:
    • Start the exam with easy questions
    • Include open questions with free text fields
    • Mix easy and difficult questions to enable better differentiation of student performance
    • Do not use double negatives when formulating questions and answer options
    • Avoid using questions that provide hints about the answers to other questions
    • Order answers logically as far as possible (in alphabetical order, by year, etc.) or allow the learning platform to randomise them
    • Do not place the correct answer under C or D in the majority of cases
    • Ensure sufficient “distance” between the best and second-best answer

In order to test whether students have reached the advanced levels of “apply and analyse” (according to Bloom), the complexity of the questions should be increased by describing previously unknown application scenarios. This means that students not only have to remember the content being tested, but that they also have to apply it in new situations. Instead of using simple questions to test a candidate’s knowledge, differentiated scenarios should be described in complex case vignettes. The answer options should describe e.g. potential student responses where the correct selection requires serious analysis of the described situation.

In the following, you can find several examples of how to formulate your questions to ensure they require a cognitive response from students.

  • Instead of asking for a definition, the task could be to paraphrase a text in a free text field or select an appropriate given paraphrasing. This enables students to demonstrate not only that they can remember the definition, but also that they have understood it.
  • You can generate cloze texts where students need to fill in the gaps with key terms. This enables students to demonstrate that they are capable of using the requested terms in a way appropriate to specific situations.
  • You can break paraphrased arguments down into their component parts and use a matching question to get students to put the parts in the right order. This enables students to demonstrate that they have internalised the structure of an argument and can check colloquially formulated argument statements for logical form.
  • Instead of asking for the definition of a specialist linguistic term, you can use a matching question to get students to mark the relevant words/phrases. This enables students to demonstrate that they can relate a specialist term correctly to an example.
  • You could pose a hypothesis and ask which theory this hypothesis can be reconciled with or which theories are suitable for conducting a contentious debate about the hypothesis. This enables students to demonstrate that they are capable of grasping the essence of a theory and applying it.
  • You can juxtapose text passages and ask which narrative elements can be found where or by which elements the texts differ. This enables students to demonstrate that they are capable of applying their narratological knowledge to an example.
  • You can get students to list the characteristics of a phase in (literary) history or art history based on a concrete text or sample image. Free text entries can also be evaluated automatically to a certain extent. However, due to the susceptibility to error of automated evaluations, you should not dispense with manual correction. This enables students to demonstrate that they are capable of recognising the relevant phase and its characteristics without being presented with answer options.

Question types in moodle

In moodle and ILIAS you will find numerous question types. In addition to conventional multiple-choice questions, you can get students to solve assignment tasks, fill in cloze texts or provide free-text answers, or you can integrate drag-and-drop tasks into your exam. You can also find detailed documentation for moodle in English. We currently use moodle version 3.9.16.

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