Planning a Final Exam

  • Faculty & Staff

Planning a remote final exam poses special challenges as you balance a meaningful assessment of student learning with flexibility for students and academic integrity.

Below are issues to consider when planning your final exam.


Start planning now and get guidance early

  • If you have questions about a pedagogical, logistical or technical issue, contact as soon as possible.
  • Penn's Center for Teaching and Learning offers suggestions for adapting your final exam for the remote teaching environment and can advise individual instructors
  • Consult with your department chair and other faculty for ideas about how best to create appropriate exams.
  • Limited support is available for remote proctoring in summer II classes. Contact for information. It is not yet clear if remote proctoring services will be available for fall.


Determine how you will handle questions from students during the exam period.

  • Let your students know how they can raise questions.
    • Should they email you and/or your TA?
    • Will there be a Discussion Board where they can post questions, so everyone can see the responses?
  • If you are allowing an extended window of availability for your exam (e.g. students can take it for 2 hours, any time over a 2 day period), consider identifying some periods when teaching staff will be available for questions. Encourage students to take the exam during one of these periods.  
  • Ask a teaching assistant or colleague to preview your questions and identify any that may need clarification to minimize the potential for confusion.


Anticipate that students may encounter technical problems, and be prepared.

  • For Canvas Quizzes, a student who loses connectivity can log back in when the problem has been resolved.
    • The timer continues to run. If the timer for the exam has not expired when the student logs back in, they can continue where they left off.
    • If the timer has expired, the student cannot continue where they left off. They must begin the exam again. To do this, you have to allow multiple attempts for the exam, or you can allow an additional attempt for a single student on request.
  • To minimize the impact of technical issues, allow a generous amount of time for the exam, to allow for possible technical problems. A good rule of thumb is to allow 50% more time than you would ordinarily provide for an exam.
    • For example, you can explain that you are giving them a 2-hour exam, but allowing 3 hours just in case of interruption due to technical problems. 
    • If you do this, it's also best to allow them to choose any 3-hour window over a day or two.
      • This avoids conflicts with students' other exams.
      • This allows students to choose a time when family members aren't using high-bandwidth applications for school or work.
  • Let students know how to inform you if technical problems interfered with their exam.
  • Be prepared to allow extra attempts if needed.  


Consider what question types & options will work best.

  • When setting up an exam in Canvas, see the Canvas Instructors Guide for a complete description of question types of options for setting up exams. .
  • Determine when you will let students see the results of automatically graded questions.
  • For long form essays, the Canvas Quiz "Essay Question" isn't optimal because it only has a small box for the response. Instead, create a "File Upload Question" and tell the students to write their response in a word processor and then upload it for that question.
  • If you're absolutely sure that every student has a smartphone (which cannot be assumed), you can have students draw graphs and use an app to upload an image to a "File Upload Question". Scanning apps include Office LensAdobe Scan or Genius Scan.
  • If you're using a new exam format that this class hasn't seen before, consider offering a practice test. This is especially important if you are using the "File Upload" question type or asking them to scan something.


Get help from SAS Computing

  • SAS Computing has Canvas support specialists available Monday-Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday & Sunday 12 noon to 8pm.
  • We can answer questions about how best to prepare an exam, including planning the grading process.
  • SAS Computing will not be able to help students troubleshoot networking or general computer performance problems.