This page is part of the Canvas documentation on Quizzes.

Using Scientific Notation in Questions

Scientific notation is handled in various ways in quizzes, both in terms of instructors creating questions and students supplying answers. The section will break it down according to quiz question type.

1. Numeric questions

Numeric questions only accept numbers and number-related characters in the answer. The numbers are usually meant to be exact according to the correct answer, but instructors can configure answers in a few different ways.  See the full documentation for details.

Creating the question text

Instructors can type scientific notation directly into the question text as normal text using the regular text formatting tools, e.g., 6.02 x 1023.

Specifying the correct answer

There are three ways to specify correct answers in Numeric questions: Exact Answer, Answer in Range, and Answer with Precision. Use of scientific notation is different for the three choices. In all cases, both instructor and student must use 'e' notation (e.g., 6.02e23) to input scientific notation.

  • Exact Answer & Answer in Range: Instructors can supply an answer in scientific notation if the exponent is 21 or greater. Numbers with exponents between 2 and 20 will be expanded to their decimal form after the instructor enters them. Students who type an exponent less than 21 will also have their answer expanded into decimal form.
    • Negative exponents: Negative exponents in these two choices up to e-4 will be expanded into decimal form. Exponents e-5 and above will just be rendered as zero.

  • Answer with Precision: Very complicated to use scientific notation in this setting, especially if the instructor wishes to preserve the notation as the basis for evaluating student input and as the style students will use to input their answer. Whether a number retains the scientific notation depends on the exponent and the amount of precision the instructor sets (i.e., significant figures).
    • Negative exponents are buggy, so stick with postive exponents if possible.

2. Formula questions

Formula questions allow the instructor to set up variables that are automatically filled with unique values for each student. Students work with a formula to calculate their answers.

a. Creating the question text

Alongside the variable indicators, instructors can type scientific notation directly into the question text as normal text using the regular text formatting tools, e.g.,"What is [a] x 6.02 x 103?"  [a] represents a variable in that question.  Next, the instructor determines the min and max of the possible values for [a] as well as the formula Canvas will use to evaluate students responses.

b. Configuring the Variable Definition

Enter scientific notation using 1e2 format, which will be converted automatically to a decimal in the field, e.g., 100. Positive exponents are ok. For negative exponents, you can only use e-2.  e-3 or higher will be rendered as 0, even with the variable's Decimal Places set to 3.

c. Configuring the Formula Definition

Enter the scientific notation portion of the formula as 1*10^2. Here, Canvas retains the scientific format when you save the formula.  E.g., a*1*10^2.  Positive exponents are ok. For negative exponents, you can only go to 10^-6 as long as you also set the formula's Decimal Places menu to 4.  10^-7 and 'above' are just rendered as 0.

d. Student input

Students enter their answer using 1e2 format, but the number will be converted to decimal for exponents 20 and below. Exponents 21 and above will retain the scientific notation format.

Updated: October 11, 2022