Assessment & Marking

Online Exams in FSE

This page will outline the types of online Exams that can be run within FSE and processes required to set them up.

What is an Online Exam

An online exam is very similar to a typical paper based exam – the key difference being that the exam takes place within a computer cluster and Students will form and input their exam answers using a desktop computer

What types of Online Exam can be used?

There are three main types of Online exam, described below;

Blackboard/Stack test – Blackboard tests are the most common type of online exam they can contain Multiple Choice Questions (and other auto-marked question types such as True/False, Calculated answer, ordering and matching questions). Stack exams work is a very similar way, STACK is a piece of assessment software integrated into Blackboard and focused much more on mathematical type questions.

Software Exams – The are exams where students use a specific piece of software to answer exam questions. The software could be very specific to the exam discipline (e.g. Jmol in Chemistry) or be a general piece of software such as MATLAB or Excel. Answers to exam questions are either recorded in the software to create files which are submit as part of the exam or answers are input on paper or in Blackboard.

Hybrid Exams – These are exams that have both an online and a paper component, students take both at the same time in a computer cluster. A typical example might be a 2 hour exam with a series on online MCQ type questions answered (and auto-marked) on blackboard followed by a couple longer answers written on paper like a traditional exam. This format is useful if you want your students to include diagrams/drawings as part of their answers.

All Multiple Choice?

If your online assessment is all multiple choice type questions, or a hybrid exam where the online component is multiple choice type questions then you could consider running the exam using the Bubble sheet functionality in Gradescope. Read more about colleagues experiences with Bubble sheets with this case study.

What is the maximum number of students that can take an Online Exam

Whilst technically there is no maximum limit we are limited by the physical resources (clusters) and timetabling. The largest cluster on campus can accommodate 170 students, but we can also run exams in parallel across various different clusters, this way online exams have been delivered to cohorts of 500+.

How long can an online exam be?

With an increase in the numbers of students with DASS time extensions and the amount of time it takes to prepare a cluster for an online exam we suggest that any online exam, regardless of format, does not exceed 2 hours in Duration.

When can an Online Exam be scheduled

Typically, Online Exams run during the two exam periods held during the academic year at the end of each semester. However, it is possible to run either a formative or summative online exam during the teaching period.

A comparison of the roles and activities for each type…

 Exam Period ExamsTeaching Period Exams
Formative or SummativeSummativeBoth
Booking cluster BookingsDone by Exam OfficeBookings made by unit lead/department PS team
InvigilationInvigilators provided by Exams OfficeInvigilators organised by unit lead/department PS team – typically GTA’s/Phd students can be used
eLearning SupportArranged via Exams Office and Faculty eLearningUnit lead required to inform Faculty eLearning of requirements.
eLearning need to be made aware of online exam at least two weeks in advance in order to organise support.

Please note that if you want to run an online exam during the teaching period you should contact the eLearning team at the start of the semester to book in the necessary support to run the exam. The eLearning Team require at least three weeks notice to support such an exam.

Are online exams secure?

Online exams what’s called the ‘eAssessment Desktop’ (eAD) this is a specifically developed user account that prohibits users from accessing the wider internet (access to Blackboard is allowed). This account will also prevent students accessing software, network locations and external devices.

For exams that want to use a specific software a version of the eAD needs to be configured for that software, this includes using things like the Calculator application.

I want to run an online exam, what’s the next step?

For exams that run during the teaching period you need to contact the faculty elearning team requesting a consultation to go through the requirements of your exam.


For Exams intended to run in the Exam period you should notify your department assessment team as soon as possible (start of semester). It may be worth arranging a consultation with the faculty elearning team to ensure that what you’d like to do is feasible and you know what needs to happen and when.

The demand for online exams is growing and the resources to support this activity are limited. It may not be possible that all requests for online exams can be supported, much of this relies on the exam timetable which is published very close to the exam period so planning a contingency in case your exam cannot run in an online format is suggested practice.