Remote Learning A-Z: X is for eXams

Remote learning has turned the traditional structure for exams on its ear. It used to be far easier to walk around the room and ensure everyone was on task and had phones put away. In this new era, all of that has gone out the window. Yet the need to assess hasn’t gone anywhere. How can we still get the student data we need in a remote classroom?

The Soapbox

I just can’t talk about exams and assessment without a little preaching. But since I’ve done a lot of that already (see our previous posts on Assessments and Quizzes), I’ll only gently remind you of a few key points:


  • is meant to give teachers actionable feedback. If you don’t act on the data you get, it’s far less useful.
  • should provide students with multiple ways to demonstrate mastery.
  • can and should take on many forms: anecdotal data collected each day, formative assessment to check understanding along the way, and summative assessment to show what you know.
  • should be rigorous and incorporate real-world application: The easiest test to give (and take) is the multiple choice exam, and sometimes its what does the trick. Just remember even in a remote world, “When in Doubt, Choose C” tests don’t always give a true picture of student understanding.

Make it UnGoogleAble

(I’m sure that’s not a word, but I’ve been told that when you’re a writer you get to make up words). Long before remote teaching began, the need for teachers to rethink how we ask questions has been critical.

When we have so much information available to us in seconds, the need for students to answer purely fact-based, “Googleable” information loses its importance in favor of questions that promote critical thinking, analysis, comparison, and synthesis of multiple sources. This places the emphasis on the application and understanding of information, and less on rote memorization.

Creating Better Questions

Instead of: What year was the March on Washington? Ask: What effect did the March on Washington have on the nation?

Instead of: Who are the main characters in The Phantom Tollbooth? Ask: Compare Milo and Tock’s friendship to Opal and Winn-Dixie‘s.

See this useful PDF from the Ohio Department of Ed for DOK 3 and 4 Question stems.

Another Perk

The other benefit of these type of exams is what I like to call Turkey-proofing. Sometimes kids can be turkeys. In a remote environment, it’s too easy to screenshot your exam in Period 1 and pass it along to your turkey pal in Period 3. The unGoogleable question not only forces critical thinking, but puts the focus on true understanding rather than hurriedly looking up quickly-forgotten facts. For more turkey-proofing strategies, see our post on Quizzes.

Remote Assessment Ideas

Here are some alternatives to the traditional exam format. While they might take more time to grade, you’ll end up with a deeper understanding of what students truly know and can apply.

Bonus: these work in a remote or a traditional classroom!

Little Tweaks

Exam Series: A series of quizzes or lower stakes exams over a longer period of time gives you the ability to adjust teaching along the way. It also helps students who may suffer from test anxiety.

Open Book/Open Notes: If make unGoogleable questions, suddenly open book/note tests take on a different feel. This builds important skills in identifying important information, synthesizing information, and analysis.

Bigger Tweaks (with Bigger Results)

Turn the Tables: Have students create the test questions and provide the answers. You’ll be surprised at what they can come up with!

Annotated Bibliography: Ask students to compile a list of multiple sources on a topic and provide a summary of each viewpoint. This supports students to compare, evaluate bias and perspectives, and seek multiple perspectives.

Wrong Answers: Give students the “wrong” answer, one with a mistake or flaw. Have them identify the errors and fix them, as well as explain why they are incorrect.

Peer Review: Peer feedback can be a far greater motivator than feedback from old people like us. Provide rubrics for students and have them assess each other and provide constructive feedback. This is also a great opportunity to support a positive, solutions-focused mindset!

Game Creation: Anything you can gamify is instantly more engaging. Task students to create a game version of the subject you are studying.

Ways to Utilize Digital Tools

e-Portfolio: have students compile their learning for the unit (or all throughout the year in an e-Portfolio.) Include work samples and images, and a reflection on their learning. Most Learning Management Systems already have this feature built in. If you don’t have an LMS in your district, Google Sites is a clean and easy alternative.

Discussion Board: ask thought-provoking questions via your LMS and require students to respond to peer contributions with evidence. Put students on two (or more) sides of an argument, but don’t tell them their side until you open the discussion. This will force students to research all sides of an issue and provide evidence to support their claims.

Presentations: The best way to demonstrate learning is to teach it to someone else. See our post on presentations and on creative ways to use video for tips and ideas.

Hope this is helpful as you design (and redesign) your exams! Leave us a comment and let us know how it goes!

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