The replacement of invigilated examinations has been exercising many minds since the start of the COVID-19 emergency. Options are currently limited in terms of replicating the exact conditions of a supervised/invigilated end of semester examination. Some may argue this is a good thing given the pen and paper exam is increasingly being criticised as archaic and no longer reflective of the way in which problem solving is undertaken in the modern world. However in a practical sense, exams have offered us a relatively high degree of assessment integrity (both identity checking and resource access verification), carry socially accepted accreditation, some degree of efficiency in terms of large scale assessment activity and equivalence in that all students do it at one time, in the same place and under the same conditions. In the online space we could look for a commercially offered online invigilation approach, but we do not have the time to implement it at scale in a sensible manner that would work for students and academics. There are already reports of these services having to be suspended in light of lock-downs in the countries where their service centre is located. Resources are limited and it is increasingly looking likely that the global demand for the remaining services will outstrip supply by many orders of magnitude!

However, before we get too despondent, I would encourage us to take a step back from our prior world view to consider what we could do to achieve the certification of learning that we desire whilst ensuring the strategy is doable in the limited time and with the resources at our disposal.

Examination alternatives

Some ideas for alternatives to traditional supervised on-campus invigilated exams include:

  1. Replace the exam with an alternative assessment mode such as a project.

Students could individually create or collaborate online to produce a product in a short period of time. This could be a written or other form of digital artefact, such as a response to a case or current need in the community, a report, a presentation, a poster, a design, a joint software product, or other relevant digital product suited to the discipline area. Responses could be submitted to an iLearn (Moodle) assignment activity and marked later.

  1. Online student presentation submissions.

Students could record video or audio presentation responses to questions sent at short notice. Students could use their phone, PowerPoint voice over, Zoom or similar as an individual or small group response. A quick turnaround to minimise cheating may need to be balanced against providing an adequate buffer that allows students to overcome technical issues in creating and uploading video. Students may need to be polled as to their access to the tools that are required to be able to respond in a timely manner. Recorded responses could be submitted to an iLearn (Moodle) assignment activity and marked later.

  1. Case-based or scenario-based activities.

Advanced iLearn users may want to explore the ‘lesson’ activity which has a branching capability that enables cases and scenarios to be constructed for students to work through. Some automatic marking is also possible but building effective sequences requires planning. A tight time release could be used with this activity.

  1. Online Viva Voce exams using Zoom or similar.

These oral exams could be 10 minutes in duration provided suitably probing questions are asked. It requires one by one student appointments. The sessions would be allocated to tutors to help with scaling to larger numbers and recorded for marking moderation. This could be used in conjunction with another type of written assessment (e.g. a take-home time limited assignment) or run as separate sessions. A telephone call could be used instead of online conferencing.

  1. Take-home exams or time-limited assignments

Using word processing documents, spreadsheets or similar as a “time limited assignment”. This can involve releasing the question document via iLearn using availability settings or emailing the questions to the students and using a tight turnaround time for responses. This can be done using the iLearn assignment, TurnItin or in combination with an iLearn quiz essay question type with file upload enabled. Time-limited take home assignments are a viable low-tech approach to running an examination-like activity and is increasingly common.

  1. Online quizzes in iLearn.

Using a quiz is a viable approach to running an examination-like activity (although a quiz alone will not be invigilated). A quiz does offer a range of settings that can be used to deter academic misconduct. The variety of the 16 different question types mean that a large number of discipline areas would find something suitable with responses possible via selection, numerical, images, text, attachments and short video or audio responses. This provides considerable scope to create a range of interesting and challenging questions. An online quiz also provides the opportunity to leverage some question types for automated or streamlined marking of responses. Further information on setting up and running an iLearn (Moodle) quiz as an exam is available in the additional resources below.

Keeping it sane

Whatever you choose to do it is recommended that you take the following steps to save the sanity of yourself and your students!

  1. Provide clear accessible instructions and resources to students.
  2. Use a quality review process such as the peer review. Give the task a test run yourself using a student role.
  3. Always give students an opportunity for a ‘practice run’ before they need to use an online tool for an assessment that carries a mark.
  4. Better yet, it is a good idea to have students use the online tool in formative and lower stakes assessments.
  5. Support for students undertaking time-limited assessment needs to be in place including being available to students to answer their questions.
  6. Have a backup plan in place and build in a buffer in case something technical goes wrong – and let students know about these plans for peace of mind.

Additional resources

This article is a work-in-progress and we welcome feedback – place your comments below 🙂

Posted by Mathew Hillier

Mathew has been engaged by Macquarie University as an e-Assessment Academic in residence and is available to answer questions by MQ staff. Mathew specialises in Digital Assessment (e-Assessment) in Higher Education. Has held positions as an advisor and academic developer at University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Monash University and University of Adelaide. He has also held academic teaching roles in areas such as business information systems, multimedia arts and engineering project management. Mathew recently led a half million dollar Federal government funded grant on e-Exams across ten university partners and is co-chair of the international 'Transforming Assessment' webinar series as the e-Assessment special interest group under the Australasian society for computers in learning in tertiary education. He is also an honorary academic University of Canberra.


  1. Somsak Wongsawass 28 October, 2020 at 12:51 am

    1. how could we make sure about integrity when using take home exam, which also apply scenario-based question ?

    2. I would like to learn more about the variety of the 16 different question types?


  2. Wasinee Kheansaard 2 November, 2020 at 4:13 am

    Alternative examinations provide low risk to expose virus infection for the students. However the old style in some tests give them the chance to improve their skill effectively.


  3. […] on from this introduction to alternatives for campus-based invigilated examinations, this post looks a little deeper regarding one of the suggested approaches.  COVID-19 shows us […]


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