Top 5 Tips for Take Home Exams

Take-home exams are one assessment method for evaluating students’ learning. Take-home exams are typically unsupervised and open-book, and students are given more time to complete the exam compared to an in-person exam. If you are considering take-home exams as an assessment method in your course, we encourage you to consider the following 5 tips:

  1. Review your course learning outcomes: Which course learning outcomes are being evaluated by the take-home exam?
    • Take-home exams are typically cumulative and holistic, and assess multiple learning outcomes. Decide which course learning outcomes are core to the exam, and centre your questions on those outcomes.
    • Take-home exams typically assess higher-order cognitive skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
    • Create a rubric to help your students see and understand your expectations and to help you with grading.


  1. Design your questions so that they require higher-order thinking and are not easily “Googleable”
    • Think about what suits your context: it might make sense to have a few shorter questions rather than one longer essay-type question.

    • Instead of asking your students to recall or replicate information from the course, ask students to apply their knowledge. For example, students may be asked to use their own examples to illustrate knowledge of concepts or theories, solve an authentic problem (e.g., a case study), or analyze a process. Compare-and-contrast questions also elicit this type of knowledge.
    • Reflection questions are also effective for take home exams. Reflection questions require synthesis of learning, material, concepts, and processes, which provoke your students to think about how this learning has impacted their worldview. Plus, it is much harder to plagiarize this type of information than information drawn straight from the textbook or lecture notes.
    • Word your questions clearly and simply to avoid ambiguity.
    • Depending on your learning outcomes, it may be possible to give students choice of topics or questions. Ensure that regardless of students’ choices, they will still be able to demonstrate the learning outcomes for the exam and course.
    • Type your exam questions in Google to see what students might find through a search.


  1. Determine the time frame
    • Take-home exams are often intended to be written over a day or more. Communicate how long students should work on their take-home exam (e.g., three hours, ten hours). Provide sufficient time for students to complete and submit their exams, given their other coursework and responsibilities. It is a delicate balance between giving your students too much time and too little.
    • Set a page or word limit.


  1. Ask your students to help create questions
    • You could ask your students to submit questions for consideration for the final exam. Students like to feel that they are a part of the course, and it is also a good way for you to see how they are thinking about topics. In addition, if your students know that their contributions will be considered when creating the take home exam, they may have less anxiety about what will be tested.


  1. Set clear expectations
    • Provide clear instructions for how your students should respond to the take home exam (e.g., page/word limit, format, font type, etc.). Specify readings to draw from, if appropriate. Write instructions in a clear format, using bullet points or steps, rather than long paragraphs of instructions. The more information your students have, the more comfortable they will be, the fewer questions they will have, and the better response you get.
    • Reiterate that the exam is time sensitive and they should not spend copious amounts of time reading and researching for the questions. State how long they should actually spend writing.
    • Clarify if students are expected to work alone or collaborate. If students can collaborate, clarify how answers should be submitted.
    • Clarify how they should cite course materials and other sources


See also Making the Transition to Online Exams, Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo