Blackboard Test Creation Tips

Test Creation Tips for Faculty

Consider an Online Test as a Take-Home Test

Unless you administer the test in a monitored environment, consider a Blackboard test as if it were a take-home or open-book test.
Decide if you are assessing basic memory of facts (recall) or asking students to transform information into something with real meaning for them.
 - Higher Order Thinking Skills: Application, Analysis, Synthesis/Creation, Evaluation.
  - see BYU: How to Prepare Better Multiple-Choice Test Items PDF icon
           BYU: 14 Rules for Writing Multiple Choice Questions PDF icon
Create questions that meet your learning and course objectives.

Give a Practice Test on Bb

Students can test their computer setup, browser actions, and Internet Service Provider connectivity.
You can help them verify they have followed your directions and the Test Taking Best Practices.
Advise students to use Firefox and to use a hard-wired connection (not WiFi).
Advise students to click links once and wait.

Provide a Test Description and Instructions

Let students know what content the assessment covers.
Indicate what kind of questions and how many they will have.
Post the time limit.
Advise students if they must complete the test in one attempt or if you allow additional attempts.
Post the due date and the start and end dates and times.
Verify students reviewed and followed the Test Taking Best Practices.

Creating Questions

Either type your questions into the Bb Text Editor, or copy/paste from your word processor first to Notepad (Windows) or Text Edit (Mac* - and go to Format > Make Plain Text), then paste the plain text into the Bb Text Editor.
* Mac users may also download the free version of BbEdit, a plain text editor, from Bare Bones.

The copy/paste process from any Word Processor will insert hidden code and scripting that can cause unfortunate issues with your test.

The Bb Text Editor has a remove formatting tool that may clean most of the word processor code.  Cleaning the text prior to pasting is a better option.

We have a license for Respondus, a Windows application for creating and managing assessments,

Test Length and Timeouts

The Bb system will timeout after 3 hours of general inactivity, and will timeout after 20 minutes of test inactivity.
Typing in a text box is not Bb activity. The student must click a link or Save button to remain active.
Maximum safe test time is less than 90 minutes. 
Optimal time for a Bb test is 45 - 60 minutes.
Setting presentation mode for One at a Time will save the answers each time the student click to moves to the next question.

Setting presentation mode for All at Once will let students review all questions and answers on one page, and prompt them to click save as they progress.

Break tests longer than 90 minutes into shorter segments and set options or adaptive release to show them sequentially.

Test Option Settings

Set Open test in new window to NO.
Avoid the Force Completion setting.
     This setting locks a student out if the connection breaks for any reason (e.g., close browser, leave test page, lose power, lose connection).
     It also locks the student out if the student clicks the link twice or double-clicks the link. The second click ends the test.
     Students must contact you to explain the issue and request a new attempt.
Use the Timer and Auto-Submit.
Allow Multiple Attempts as appropriate.
Use the Test Availability Exceptions PDF icon as needed.
Set a Due Date.
Select Show Test Results and Feedback to Students settings carefully.
Select Test Presentation options.


  • Test Availability settings not only hide the test link from the page, but also hide the test name, link, and grade from students on their My Grades page.
  • To avoid this issue, avoid using that setting.  Instead, keep it Available, set a Due Date, and click the box for  Do not allow students to start the Test if the due date has passed. 
  • If you need to use Test Availability Exceptions, remove the check from that box until the Exceptions are met by students, then check the box again.


Timing and Timeouts

Bb has a time limit, just like many other secure web sites. 
Advise students to log out of Bb and restart the computer before starting a test.

When Bb detects no active clicking for 3 hours, it logs the user out.  Work not saved is lost. 
Typing in a text box, e.g., an Essay Test,  is not active clicking. Tests time out after 20 minutes of inactivity

A user's Internet Service Provider (ISP) can also have time limits, which are often as short as 15 or 30 minutes.  These time limits are primarily in effect for dial-up users. 
Other factors could cause a high-speed connection to time out, especially a WiFi or satellite connection.
Advise students to use a hard-wired connection.

Keep these limits in mind when creating the test and setting the options for your students. 
Consider breaking long tests into several smaller sessions, if possible.

Essay Tests

We advise not copy/pasting from a Word Processor, like MS Word, because the hidden formatting code can cause major issues in the final viewing.

The safest way for a student to complete a Blackboard essay test is to enter the text directly into the text box in Bb.
If a student decides to use a word processor, advise the student to copy/paste text from a word processing document into a plain text editor, then copy/paste to Bb.
 - Notepad on Windows
 - Text Edit on Mac (Format > Make Plain Text), or the free version of BbEdit from
Copy the text from the word processing app, paste into the other app, save the plain text document, copy the plain text, paste into the Bb Content Editor.

However, some essay tests could be an exception to this general practice.  A lengthy written work on a word processor can be saved early and saved often, and is often saved automatically.  Even if the app or the computer freezes or crashes, the saved document will usually still be available with the content of the previously saved version.  Web browsers can crash and take the work along with them.

Students could copy/paste from their word processor and use the Content Editor Remove Formatting tool on the top right side of the top toolbar to clear the background code.
This tool may leave some traces, but will clean the majority of hidden code from a word processing application.

Select all text.  Click the tool. 
It removes all formatting (bullets, bold, italics, font color, font family, font size, and hidden code) and makes the content plain text.  Paragraphs are usually retained.
The student can reformat the text with the Bb Content Editor tools.

Essay Test Options 

  • Consider giving essay tests using the Assignment Link.  Set the start/end date/time as needed, enter the directions and question(s) in the Text Box, advise students to leave Blackboard, complete the work in MS Word, and upload the file before the due date/time.  You can use the inline grading tool or download the files to evaluate.
  • Use multiple drafts and a tool such as TurnItIn or SafeAssign to promote honesty and integrity if the work can be done over a longer time frame.
  • Consider setting up multiple essay tests, one or two questions each, for shorter time periods.

File Response Questions

File Response Questions let students upload a document, such as word processing, spreadsheet, or image.
The instructor must download all files to evaluate and grade them.  They do not display on the Bb test page.
When downloaded, the instructor can work offline.  The instructor needs to be online to enter grades in the Grade Center.

Don't use Force Completion

If the student loses the connection, has a browser issue, or a computer glitch, Force Completion will close the assessment and lock the student out.

The Force Completion setting also clears the student's saved answers upon lockout.

Instead, set the Timer and Auto Submit.  The clock starts when the student clicks the link to begin the assessment and keeps ticking, even if the student quits the browser or restarts the computer.  Upon returning to the test, the student can pick up where it was dropped.  The student will not need to call you asking for a reset or restart. 

Use One at a Time Presentation

If students need time to contemplate or complete their answers, the one-at-a-time presentation setting lets the student click a Save/Continue button after each question. 
That click tells Bb the student is still active.
Bb will auto-save answers when the student clicks to move to the next question.


Students using dial-up, DSL, a mobile device, or WiFi could have a time-out or dropout that breaks the connection to Bb and stops the testing process. 
We recommend students use a computer with a wired connection for all Bb assessments. 

Students may need to go to a library or other facility to use a computer with that hard-wired connection to avoid dropouts and loss of work.


To give students an opportunity to check their computer, browser, connection, and comprehension of this issue, provide a non-graded activity of similar length and timing so they can practice several times (set for Multiple Attempts).  If an issue arises during a practice activity, they will not lose graded work or credit or need to contact you. 

Something Went Wrong

Advise students that the Technology Support Desk cannot reset a test or change a setting.  Only the instructor can do that.
The Tech Support staff will collect information from the student to start an evaluation process.  The instructor will be notified.
Advise students to take screen shots when they encounter issues and send them to you.
Advise students to tell you what computer operating system, browser, and Internet Service Provider they were using.
Have students contact you first for a test or assignment issue.

Bb 5/19