Principles of Assessment

  • Set expectations for assessments the first day of class and in the course syllabus.
  • Design assessments that build trust between faculty and students and between students. Toward that end, provide clear and detailed rubrics and use them consistently in assessing work (especially with research papers and projects).
  • Tie assessment directly to the learning goals of the course.
  • Assessments are opportunities for students to demonstrate connections between what they have been learning and the real world.
  • Exams should be of a uniform format throughout the semester.
  • Provide a practice assignment in the same format (platform, timed, etc.) in preparation for the actual assignments.


General Comments

  • Make requirements and expectations clear. Plainly state what students are allowed to access and not allowed to access while taking the assessment.
  • Write questions that assess the students’ ability to apply concepts rather than simply recall or Google search facts.

Open vs Closed-note Exams

Open-note Exams

  • Easier to enforce
  • Partially relieves temptation to use unauthorized materials
  • Not appropriate for all courses
  • Questions can be more difficult to create
  • Questions might be more difficult for the students

Closed-note Exams

  • Encourages students to prepare for the exam
  • Exams are generally easier to prepare
  • Greater temptation to use unauthorized materials

Timed vs Untimed Exams


  • Proctoring services are available (Proctorio, Zoom sessions)
  • Simplifies student schedules
  • Faculty help available during exams
  • Requires reliable internet/Technical issues can occur
  • Additional stress for the students
  • Requires special scheduling for student accommodations


  • Lower perceived stress for students
  • Complicates student schedules
  • No access to proctoring service
  • No active assistance during exam

Randomize Questions on Exams


  • Can randomize the order of the questions (and possibly only release one question at a time) or pull each question from a pool of questions


  • Decreases the efficacy of students working together on the exam


  • Additional work to generate additional versions of the questions
  • Difficult to produce questions of equal difficulty
  • More difficult to answer student questions because the question numbers vary

Offer assessments often covering less content


  • This should decrease student stress and anxiety about the implications of their performance on each exam.
  • The logistics of online assessment is easier than in person (no room reservations, copying, answer sheets, etc.), giving assessments more often should be easier to implement in the remote environment.


  • A possible problem with frequent exams in large classes is scheduling. Traditionally, large classes have evening exams. The Chancellor’s Roadmap includes evening classes scheduled until 9 pm, which will conflict with evening exams. Evening exam times for large classes are already scheduled and are in the class notes for fall classes. (Class notes can still be edited.) More frequent assessments (if in the evening) will produce even more conflicts.
    • A possible solution can be to allow students to begin an exam over a window of time to avoid conflicts with other commitments (classes, work schedule, etc).
    • Another solution to avoid conflicts would be to give the exams during the assigned class period.


  • Tie the paper or project to an explicit learning goal of the course.
  • Be very explicit of expectations and provide a rubric in advance that outlines how an assignment will be evaluated.
  • When class assignments are graded by more than one person, such as with teaching assistants, instructors and TAs should practice reviewing assignments to maintain consistent assessment of student work.
  • Scaffold assignments into discrete activities to help students develop and practice skills that they will combine for subsequent assignments. For example, one early assignment might focus on research skills and another may focus on analysis skills, before a later assignment requires students to combine both these skills. If a large project will require specific technical skills (such as coding or curating materials from other sources), design earlier, low-stakes assignments for students to learn and practice these activities. Dividing up papers or projects into discrete steps will allow faculty to provide immediate feedback on each step and to identify students who need additional support.