Tips for Creating Open-Book Online Tests

When testing students online, it can be difficult to maintain academic integrity and to accurately assess student learning. If the course outline includes a test or a final exam, here are some tips that encourage the application of learning rather than simply finding the right answer.

Start with the course learning outcomes

Determine which outcome(s) you want to assess, and use its wording to guide/formulate your test questions.

Example: If one of your learning outcomes uses the word “describe”, use the same action word in your test question. “Describe the strategies you would recommend to help improve the student’s reading skills and explain why they would be effective.”

Rationale: All assessments in your course should align well with the learning outcomes. By referring to the specific action verb, your test questions can effectively represent course expectations.

Create scenario-based or open-ended questions when possible

Create questions in which students must include various fact-based content in their answers. 

Example: A nursing scenario is provided in which there are multiple steps/strategies to successfully meet the needs of the patient. In their answer, students are expected to include specific information from the course content.

Rationale: These questions make it harder for students to cheat because they must write a detailed explanation rather than selecting the right answer from a list of choices. They also encourage higher-order thinking because students apply their knowledge to a new context.

Require students to explain their process

If you teach a subject in which you must test students in a right/wrong fashion (e.g. Math, Science, etc.), include a reflective question in which students must explain how they achieved their answer. 

Example: Students are given a math problem to solve. As a follow-up question, ask students to explain in words how they achieved their answer and why they followed that approach.

Rationale: Because students are expected to provide their process and not just the right answer, cheating is less likely. In addition, professors can gain insight into their students’ reasoning skills.

Be realistic with the number of test questions

Open-ended application questions take more time to answer than other question types like multiple choice, drag/drop, true/false, etc. Be mindful of this when modifying a test for online delivery.

Example: If your original test was out of 30 marks and you had 30 multiple-choice questions, your new test could include 3 scenario-based questions that require elaborate answers from your students. Each question can be worth 10 marks each. 

Rationale: By providing fewer questions, students can better apply their knowledge by providing more elaborate answers and you can better manage your marking time.

Provide a clear marking scheme for students

Similar to an assignment, students should know exactly how their answers will be evaluated.

Example: If one question is worth 5 marks, outline what kind of answer would achieve full marks, 3 marks, and 1 mark. Include this marking criteria with your test question. 

Rationale: Including marking criteria to your test question will not only guide students in their answers but will also justify your evaluation of their answers. 

For more assistance in creating open-book tests, please email