Norwegian version of this page

How to plan for exams?

In many subjects and studies, exams this spring must be altered and conducted in a different way than originally intended. Below are some tips and advice on how exams can be administered in a situation where students have to take exams from home.  

Begin with the learning outcomes

When an exam needs to be changed, it is easy to fall for the temptation to think about exam form and format first (oral, written, in groups, etc.).

However, before deciding on how to implement the exam, you should take the time to go back to the learning outcomes for the programme or course.

  • What are the key learning outcomes, and what knowledge, skills and qualifications is it important to test the students in?
  • What assessment criteria can be used to measure this knowledge and these skills and qualifications?

What is actually feasible to carry out?

In this situation, where students have to take the exam at home, it is challenging to find a single type of exam that reflects all key learning outcomes.

Often, the design of the exam will depend on the time available, resources, capacity for completion and technical solutions.

The choice of examination format will therefore often be a balance between different considerations.

Web resources that can help find a good balance between different considerations (

Choice of exam format

Exams can be carried out in many different ways, and different formats can also be combined to test different forms of knowledge, skills and qualifications. Some of the most relevant forms of exams in this situation where students are not present on campus are:

Written individual take-home exam

This is an alternative to what we usually call a school exam, and provides several choices both in regards to how you phrase exam questions and time frames.

Alternative 1: Exam at the same time for all students

  • One alternative is that the exam takes place at a common time frame (for example 4-6 hours) where the students start and end the exam at the same time.
  • If you must change the time for the exam, this must be done in dialogue with the student and academic administration at your faculty. 

Alternative 2: Exam over several days

  • Another possibility is to administer an exam that can be taken over several days, where the students use their time more freely. This type of exam can also be relevant for students who have families and need a more flexible exam situation.

Alternative 3: With more activities

  • In this alternative there are more possibilities for adding activities such as literature collection or easier versions of "desktop research" 
  • Such home exams can be vulnerable to cheating, and a time limit can possibly be used as a mitigating measure.
  • An important measure to prevent cheating is to design exam questions where students are not only asked about their factual knowledge, but where they must demonstrate their ability to independently analyze, reflect, and put different parts of the subject matter into new contexts.  

Group submission

  • Group submissions do not necessarily have to be done by all students jointly, but can be combinations of individual and collective contributions. 
  • In such cases the exam can take place in different stages, and be a combination of written and oral examination. 
  • If you combine group tasks with individual oral exams there is also greater opportunity to uncover and check cheating, plagiarism and student contributions. This is a type of exam that can also test students' ability to cooperate. 

Digital multiple choice tests/quiz

Often digital multiple choice tests are associated with factual knowledge testing, but this format can also be used in other ways, where multiple choice tests are designed so that one not only tests factual knowledge but also application of knowledge. 

The latter is usually quite demanding, especially if the time for developing the multiple choice answers is short.

  • Multiple choice exams/quizzes can be a small part of a larger exam, and can be considered a way to free up time that can then be used to test other forms of knowledge, skills and qualifications.
  • It is also possible to create multiple choice test with a time limit. If the multiple choice questions are part of a larger set of exams, you could set it up so that the students do the multiple choice test in the first hour, before they continue with the other test(s) the rest of the time allocated to the exam.

Portfolio assessment

  • Portfolio assessment is already a part of many courses/programs and is an exam type that can be used to test different forms of knowledge, skills, and qualifications. However, to achieve this, the parts of the portfolio must be relatively varied.
  • Portfolio assessment is an exam type that can be extended over time and can be used to structure students by demanding different types of submissions in the portfolio.
  • Portfolio assessment can also contain an element which documents students' ability to reflect over their own work.This can both be a reflection about their own learning and learning process, and about their field of study.
  • In recent years, it is not uncommon for submissions in a portfolio to contain films / student presentations / peer assessments / blogs / audio files etc.

Oral exam

  • Oral examination is a common type of exam, not least in connection with grading of master's theses, but can also be used at other levels and in different formats. It is also possible for students to make a video presentation - with or without a discussion to follow. 
  • Often oral exams can be labour intensive, especially if several teachers are involved in examining students individually.
  • Alternative types of oral exams exist, for example the possibility of digital conferences where students can also be included in each other's assessment; that students present their own work in groups; are asked to give a lecture / presentation with subsequent questioning / discussion, etc.

Strengths and weaknesses of the different exam formats

The above exam formats are not mutually exclusive, and have various strengths and weaknesses.

A written exam is the format that has been most common in higher education, and is the format that most teachers find easiest to offer. It is also often perceived as fair to both students and employees.

At the same time, written exams can also be a major challenge for students who have dyslexia or other reading and writing difficulties.

For this group of students, oral exams can be a more attractive exam format, which can also test different types of knowledge and skills.

Portfolio assessment is perhaps the exam format that can provide the greatest opportunity to test the student’s breadth of knowledge and skills, and often it is only our imagination that limits the products and submissions that can be included in a portfolio.

Assessment guideline: grade assessment

  • Regardless of the type of exam chosen, an assessment guideline will be prepared. See the rules for assessment guidance on our employee pages.
  • However, an assessment guideline is not only a set of rules that must be followed, but also an opportunity to help both students and teachers prepare well for exams.

More tips and how to develop and use assessment guidelines on LINK’s webpages (In Norwegian)

Assessment and grade determination

In connection with the change in exam plans that were demanded this spring, the question of grading has become more important – not least because checking for cheating may be more difficult when the students are at home.  

In this regard, different types of exams and exam formats have different strengths and weaknesses.

Good criteria for grading

Regardless of the type of exam, however, students are entitled to the most objective assessment possible. See examples of developing good criteria for grading ( 


As a result of the transition to digital exams, many academic areas have gone from a grading scale to pass/fail.

According to UiO’s regulations for examinations for pass/fail, “…this should be an independent assessment without relation to the grading scale.”

In practical terms, this means that a criteria set must be developed that describes what the minimum requirements must be in order to pass the exam. As mentioned above in point 1), it is important that the learning objectives for the course/programme are taken into account when developing these criteria.

Information to students

Exams are a test of knowledge, but can also be a learning process for students. If exams are to function as both, it is important that students as early as possible:

  1. Get to know how exams will take place;
  2. gain insight into what knowledge, skills and qualifications the exam aims to test;
  3. get to know key criteria for what constitutes quality;
  4. are given the opportunity to practice in exam-like situations;
  5. are given the opportunity to reflect over their own strategies and working methods in connection with the exam.

Transparency about choice of exam formats and involvement of students in the process of organizing and designing exams can therefore both strengthen the legitimacy of the exam format chosen, and ensure the quality of the various elements in exam organization.


Published Apr. 23, 2020 10:34 AM - Last modified Jan. 14, 2022 12:34 PM