Alternate Assessment

The guide below provides some resources and options for how to modify exams and final assessments for remote/virtual learning. These offer some suggestions for how to best meet the needs of our students by considering alternatives to traditional exam and final formats. Any time there is a disruption to a faculty's ability to conduct in-class midterm/final exams or other assessments, it is essential that we remain flexible and sensitive to student needs, concerns and equity issues. Please also read, What Do Final Exams Mean During a Pandemic?

A diagram showing the process flow for placing exams online. If you're unable to view the contents of this graphic, please contact us at facultycenter@csustan.edu for assistance.

10 Alternatives to Exams

Karen Harris of Rutgers University presents an excellent list of 10 that can be aligned with different subjects and goals. Listed below are a few of her suggestions; see the presentation for much more detail:

  • Series of quizzes: offer a low-stakes opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of material, and give you ongoing information about student understanding. Frequent quizzing has also been shown to reinforce student understanding.
  • Student-developed quiz questions: writing quiz questions both builds and demonstrates students’ understanding of the material.
  • Professional presentations or demonstrations: students can create audiovisual presentations using a variety of media, powerpoint, prezi, Voicethread, and other tools.
  • Fact sheet: students create a one-page fact sheet on a topic.
  • Peer- and self-review activity: these allow for personal reflection on learning and peer-to-peer instruction, both of which reinforce and deepen understanding.
  • E-Portfolio: a student-selected portfolio of work from the semester. Students compile their best or representative work from the semester, writing a critical introduction to the portfolio and a brief introduction to each piece.

Special Advice for Open-Book Assessment in Quantitative Courses

Rutgers University

STEM and other quantitative courses face a particular challenge in creating effective online exams, in part because it's so easy to cheat and in part because so many questions are computational. Dr. Guadagni has compiled this advice from the Mathematics department:

  • Ask more conceptual questions (e.g., "what is the next step in this problem?", "state the definition of...", "explain why this hypothesis in the theorem is necessary").
  • Ask students to identify an error in a proof or computation (this is particularly effective since it can't be googled).
  • Eliminate multiple-choice and fill-in questions in favor of show-all-work questions where students have to scan and upload their work.
  • If using problems from a textbook, change not only the numbers but also the names (e.g., John to Alice) and the scenario (e.g., pulling a boat in to letting a kite string out). The reason for this is that popular textbooks will probably have many of their problems already solved online somewhere, for example, on Chegg.
  • Use letters and variables in place of specific numbers.
  • When randomizing the exam, don't just randomize numbers. Also randomize discrete parts of the problem. For instance, one version might have a problem like "maximize the volume of the box given its surface area" whereas another version might have "minimize the surface area of a box given its volume". (The numbers can even be the same for the two versions.)
  • Avoid questions that consist of only simple computations. For example, instead of "calculate this integral", present students with some application in which they also have to set up a proper integral. "Write an integral expression that is equal to the probability that..." or "write a triple integral which is equal to the mass of the region" are good alternatives. There are online calculators that will not only solve many computational problems, but also give step by step solutions.

Alternatives To Traditional Testing

Center for Teaching and Learning: UC Berkeley

Alternatives briefly described on this page include the following:

  • Paper instead of test
  • Memorandum or briefing
  • Professional presentation
  • Annotated Anthology or course reader
  • Annotated research bibliography with introduction
  • Reflective paper
  • Op-Ed piece to be sent to local newspaper
  • Historical Trial
  • Student-Proposed Project

Alternatives To Traditional Exams and Papers

Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning: Indiana University

This site has simple lists of alternatives to traditional exams and papers: “If you are willing to think creatively about assignments that go beyond traditional exams or research papers, you may be able to design assignments that are more accurate reflections of the kind of thinking and problem-solving you want your students to engage in. In addition, non-traditional assignments can boost students’ motivation.”

Online Simulations and Labs

While the learning curve for some of these tools might be steep, they provide options for alternative experiences that expose students to tools, procedures, and collaborative activities. For some ideas, see these MERLOT online resources:

Final Exam Options

UC Davis

They provide a comprehensive review of the impacts of different kinds of exams on student performance and well-being. See an example below.

Assessment Options

Online alternative low-stakes assignment* (e.g., reflection on course learning) submitted and graded via Canvas for either full points or no points (i.e., only 2 grade possibilities).

Potential Impact on Student Performance and Well-Being

This equitable practice likely decreases anxiety in all students due to the low-stakes nature (i.e., full points, no points) of the assignment, particularly for those with positive prior experience writing reflections. A well-written reflection prompt may also allow students to demonstrate their learning in a more nuanced way

A Different Kind of Final

Faculty Focus

This article was written by a faculty member who replaced their traditional multiple choice and short answer final exam with a concept mapping exercise: “The assignment encouraged student creativity, and my students took advantage of the opportunity using many different themes and metaphors. For example, some of them used baseball, baking, and gardening as themes to express the concepts and the connections. I was impressed with their creativity. This was one assignment I didn’t get bored grading.”


For faculty thinking of online proctoring, please do understand that it requires sufficient hardware and internet access, is susceptible to algorithmic bias, raises privacy concerns, and may not prevent cheating, therefore, we encourage you to rethink/reframe as you modify/design final assessments. Thank you! We do have a campus wide subscription to Respondus. Respondus is a Windows-based authoring tool that makes it easy to create and manage exams for Blackboard, Moodle, and other learning systems. Learn more about Respondus.