Creating Online Exams

Implementing online exams creates a new set of considerations for the instructor. Instructors may need to change methods and content to fit the online context, and may have questions about how to administer exams fairly for every student and maintain academic integrity. CourseWorks (Canvas) offers a variety of tools, options, and settings that can help implement exams efficiently and fairly and make the exam experience positive for both instructors and students.

Cite this resource: Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2020). Creating Online Exams. Columbia University. Retrieved [today’s date] from

Create Online Quizzes

The CourseWorks Quiz tool is best for assessments with questions that list a limited number of answers or options (i.e. multiple choice, true and false, and fill-in-the-blank). Turn on automatic grading to provide immediate feedback to students and to save time.

  • See instructions on how to Create a CourseWorks Quiz.
  • When creating a deadline for a timed CourseWorks Quiz, consider the following:
    • For the “available from” date and time of the exam, choose when you want students to be able to start the exam.
    • For the “available to” date and time, choose the end time of the exam. Note that CourseWorks will promptly end a quiz that is in progress at that time. For example, a 60 minute exam scheduled to be available from 3:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. will stop firmly at 4:00 P.M., even if some students started at 3:05 P.M. (meaning they lose five minutes they may have been entitled to).
    • For this reason, you might consider giving students some cushion on the “available to” time. Please note that you will need to make the same consideration for students who are entitled to an extra time accommodation on timed assignments.
    • For more information, see the “Tailor Your Exams to Individual Student Needs” section below.
    • You can assign extra time on the quiz timer to specific students. Please make sure you set up these accommodations before students are supposed to start their exam.

Quizzes can be used in many different ways. To learn more about CourseWorks quizzes please see the rest of the CourseWorks Quiz documentation.

Create Online Longer-Form Exams

The CourseWorks Assignment tool is best for more complex responses, such as essays, presentations, videos, or multiple files. This tool allows students to submit multiple files as part of their response. It is also a good option if you intend to have students complete paper-based exams at home and they need to upload pictures of their work as part of the submission. 

See instructions on how to Create an Online CourseWorks Assignment

  • Use the description textbox to provide instructions. If you need to provide students with files (e.g. spreadsheets, Powerpoint) to perform the assignment  (e.g. a written math exam), upload these files and link to them in the instructions of the assignment. Note that when you are uploading such files, they should be placed in a restricted access folder to avoid giving students access ahead of time. Directions on how to create and link from restricted access folders can be found in the “Maintain Academic Integrity” section below. 
  • Students can submit multiple files (e.g. Word documents, PDFs, pictures) in a CourseWorks Assignment. You can ask students to type up a response to upload, or write a response with pen and paper and submit pictures of the completed work. 

Tailor Your Exams to Individual Student Needs

Assigning different start and end times for individual students can be helpful if:

  • You have students in different time zones. See our Asynchronous Learning Across Time Zones for more recommendations on best practices in teaching across multiple time zones.
  • You have students who need extra time accommodations. For more information on how to best support students in your classes who are entitled to accommodations please contact the Office of Disability Services.

Maintain Academic Integrity 

To encourage your students to value academic integrity in your online classroom, consider the following:

  • Contact your Dean of Academic Affairs and the University’s Office on Student Conduct and Community Standards to ask about academic integrity policies for online learning.
  • Make sure that any files or images used in your exam are in a restricted access folder in Files so that students cannot access the files or images in the exam before they begin. To do this please follow these steps:
      • In Files, create a folder just for your exam materials.
      • Restrict access to this folder to “Only available to students with link.” 
      • For any files or images you intend to use in your instructions or quiz questions, upload them to your now restricted exam folder.
      • You can now embed these images and link to these files in your quiz or assignment using the linking panel.
  • Ask undergraduate students to sign Columbia University’s undergraduate honor code. All undergraduates are held to the same standards and Columbia College honor code. You can use Columbia College’s Honor Code as a basis or create your own. Set clear guidelines upfront in your classroom. In a CourseWorks Quiz, you can establish the honor code as the first question of the test to remind students of the academic integrity policy. Students can type in their name as an electronic signature agreeing to the terms of the code of honor. Studies have found that when students agree to terms of an honor code, and are reminded about the importance of this academic value before an exam, the amount of cheating decreases. 
      • Template honor code for students to sign on your exams: 
        I, (Student’s First and Last Name), affirm that I will not plagiarize, use unauthorized materials, or give or receive illegitimate help from others on this examination. I understand that content from this exam cannot be shared with others unless given written permission from the instructor. I will also uphold equity and honesty in the evaluation of my work and the work of others. I understand that violating this honor code subjects me to a possible referral to the Dean’s Disciplinary Procedures for academic misconduct.” Signed: (Student Signature Here)
  • Emphasize to students that the goal of the exam is to help them recognize areas where they can improve. This is particularly important with courses that are pass/fail.
  • Design tests that require unique answers from students, requiring them to craft answers that are based on their own understanding, opinions, and ideas. Doing this prevents students from working together. Some possibilities include having students develop presentations or demonstrations, create fact sheets, annotate an anthology or bibliography, solve a real world problem (e.g., case study), or show their work. 
  • Allow exams to be open-book or open-notes. Open-book exams give student permission to look at outside material, eliminating one possibility of going against the rules. If you choose this option, communicate clearly to students what sources they can use for their exam answers.

Want to discuss the use of AI tools with your students?

See the CTL’s resource “Considerations for AI Tools in the Classroom.”