Option 2: Altering an In-Person, Synchronous Exam into an Alternative Exam

For this section, we will have you convert a current exam into an alternative exam that is better suited for online learning. We will be walking you through some tips for converting the exam to an asynchronous, take-home exam.

We will not recommend methods of proctoring exams online as we do not have an online proctoring solution at the U of L at this moment. Furthermore, it is generally understood that offering online, synchronous exams is not a sound, pedagogical practice.

If you are concerned about Academic Integrity, we suggest you read Tool Box 2 before moving ahead with this activity.

Before we begin building a new exam, we will first explore:

  1. The purpose and value of take-home exams in online learning environments
  2. Types of alternative/ take-home exams
  3. Considerations for altering exams

After reading through these key elements of alternative exams, you will engage in a hands-on activity to create a new exam. You will do the following:

  1. Evaluate your current exam
  2. Create a table of specifications using the ICE Model
  3. Design & build your alternative exam
  4. Create questions for the exam
  5. Create an assessment tool (scoring criteria) or exam key
  6. Receive feedback

This section will take 3 – 4 hours to complete.

Please read the key elements of online exams below. You will be notified with a STOP: message once you reach the activity portion of the section. 



STOP: You will now create an alternative exam and your class.


Activity: Designing an Alternative

To design an alternative delivery method of an exam, you will want to complete five steps:

  1. Evaluate your current exam
  2. Create a table of specifications using the ICE Model
  3. Design & build your alternative exam
  4. Create questions for the exam
  5. Create supporting scoring criteria or exam key
  6. Receive feedback

Remember to have your course outline, learning outcomes (goals), and your current exam (digital or hard copy) on hand.

Step 1 Evaluate your current exam  

You will evaluate your current exam to determine the content areas you are testing, as well as the level of cognitive demand associated with each content area. This is an important first step to helping you align your new exam to your current exam.


Follow these three steps to evaluate your current exam:



Step 2 Create a Table of Specifications using the ICE Model 1

Create a Table of Specifications using the ICE Model for your chosen exam. This will ensure you are assessing the same content at the same value in your new exam. Use the template Table of Specs ICE Model.

A table of specifications outlines the course learning outcomes associated with the discussion forum, the specific content areas you want to cover in the forum, the level of cognitive demand students will use to demonstrate their learning, and the weighted value you place on each content area you will be grading.

See a sample Table of Specifications ICE Model: SAMPLE Table of Specs ICE Model

Once you have your table of specifications ICE Model open, follow these 8 steps to complete the table:



Be prepared to rework the questions that currently sit in the ideas category. These types of questions are easily copied and replicated.


Step 2 Design & Build Your Alternative Exam 

Consider the following things before designing your new exam:

  • Do you have more weight on questions that relate to connections and extensions than ideas?
    • i.e., do you focus more on high-order thinking?
  • Do you test the same content area in different ways?
    • i.e., do you give students more than one opportunity to show they have learned something?

You will want to have your old/current exam on hand and your Table of Specifications ICE Model.


  1. Determine the new form of your exam. Open the proper instructions:
  • Take-Home Exam Instructions



  • Open-Book Exam Instructions



  • In-Tray Exam Instructions



STOP: Are you worried about your students cheating? See the FAQ Section and Tool Box 2.


Step 3 Receive Feedback

After designing a new assessment tool, you want to avoid some common errors. See the tips sheet in our FAQ Section. It is always helpful to have a second pair of eyes on your assessment. Here are two ways you can receive feedback:

  1. Consider having a colleague read through your exam to determine its clarity and accuracy.
  2. Ask the Teaching Centre to review your assessment.

After receiving feedback, you will want to make the necessary changes.



Next step: You can go back to the beginning of the module and select a new activity, or continue reading more in the tool box sections by clicking here.


1The template of a Table of Specifications using the ICE Model was first adapted by Queen’s University and can be found here. We have made a few adaptations to suit our needs.

Extended resources

Arthur, L. (2018, February 13). How to design a good open book exam. UTS. https://lx.uts.edu.au/blog/2018/02/13/design-open-book-exam/

Assessment Centre HQ. (n.d.). How to pass an in-tray exercise. https://www.assessmentcentrehq.com/assessment-centre-exercises/in-tray-exercise/

Bengtsson, L. (2019, November 6). Take-Home exams in higher education: A systematic review. Education Science 9(267), 1 – 16. doi:10.3390/educsci9040267

Gordon, D. (n.d.). Don’t panic: The hitch-hiker’s guide to alternative assessment. (p. 18). http://www.damiantgordon.com/Guide.pdf.

Government of Canada. (2015, October). Best practices for unsupervised testing. The Personnel Psychology Centre. [PDF]. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/public-service-commission/migration/plcy-pltq/guides/tools-outils/pdf/pract-prat-eng.pdf.

Gray, T. G. F. (1994). Open book examination. Biochemical Education 22(3). 122 – 125. https://iubmb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1016/0307-4412(94)90041-8

Gupta, M. S. (2007, December). Open-book examinations for assessing higher cognitive abilities. Educator’s Corner, 46 – 50. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=4405045&tag=1

Johnson, C., Green, K., Galbraith, B., & Anelli, C. (2015). Assessing and Refining Group Take-Home Exams as Authentic, Effective Learning Experiences. Journal of College Science Teaching, 44(5), 61-71. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/43631852

Mellet, E. (2020, March 1). In-tray and e-tray exercises, examples and practice. Practice Reasoning Tests. https://www.practicereasoningtests.com/what-are-in-tray-exercises/

Mills, P. (2017, April 24). Reduce cheating on online quizzes with randomisation. https://lx.uts.edu.au/blog/2017/04/24/reduce-cheating-online-quizzes-randomisation/

Silverman, R. (2018, October 15). Exam preparations: Strategies for open book exams. Simon Fraser University. https://www.lib.sfu.ca/about/branches-depts/slc/learning/exam-types/open-book-exams

University of Saskatchewan. (n.d.). Common assessment questions. https://teaching.usask.ca/remote-teaching/exams.php#CommonAssessmentQuestions


AssessmentDay. (2015, March 13). Free in-tray exercise: Graduate retail banking candidate instructions booklet. https://www.assessmentday.co.uk/example-in-tray-assessmentday.pdf.

AssessmentDay. (n.d.). In-tray exercise. https://www.assessmentday.co.uk/in-tray-exercise.htm.

British Columbia Institute of Technology. Developing checklists and rating scales. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from http://www.northernc.on.ca/leid/docs/ja_developchecklists.pdf.

Gordon, D. (n.d.). Don’t panic: The hitch-hiker’s guide to alternative assessment. http://www.damiantgordon.com/Guide.pdf.

Kramer, L. (1991, Fall). Example examination instruction and questions. University of Michigan. https://www.law.umich.edu/currentstudents/studentservices/Documents/Sample%20exam%20instructions%20and%20questions%20handout.pdf.

Mertler, C. A. (2000). Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 7(25), 1 – 8. https://doi.org/10.7275/gcy8-0w24.

Queens University. (n.d.). Table of specifications: General model. Retrieved April 15, 2020 from https://www.queensu.ca/ctl/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.ctlwww/files/files/What%20We%20Do/Assessment%20and%20Teaching%20Strategies/table%20of%20specifications%20general%20model.pdf.

Ryerson University. (n.d.). Open book exams. Centre for Excellence in Learning & Teaching. https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/learning-teaching/teaching-resources/assessment/open-book-exams.pdf.

Ryerson University. (n.d.). Take home exams. Centre for Excellence in Learning & Teaching. [Google Doc]. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TLxW2GSMRNHNjoSf3U71Ondpx1PN1MiUMsAoUFlj_hs/edit.

Simon Fraser University. (n.d.). Designing take home/ open book exams. https://www.sfu.ca/content/dam/sfu/cee/documents/pdfs/Take%20Home%20_Open%20Book%20Exams%20handout.pdf.

University of Newcastle. (n.d.). A guide for academics: Open book exams. Centre for Teaching and Learning. https://www.newcastle.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/268980/Open-Book-Exams.pdf.

University of New Mexico. (n.d.). Take home exam #3. http://www.unm.edu/~hookster/Take%20Home%20Exam%203.pdf.

University of Saskatchewan. (n.d.). 5-minute assessment interviews information table. https://teaching.usask.ca/documents/gmctl/5min-assessment.pdf

Young, S. F. (2005, September). Teaching, learning, and assessment in higher education: Using ICE to improve student learning. Proceedings of the Improving Student Learning Symposium 13, 105 – 115. https://www.queensu.ca/teachingandlearning/modules/principles/documents/Teaching,%20Learning%20and%20Assessment%20in%20Higher%20Education.pdf



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Fit for Online Learning Copyright © 2020 by U of L Teaching Centre: Jördis Weilandt, Erin Reid, Kristi Thomas, Brandy Old, and Jeff Meadows is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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