Top 5 Tips for Take Home Exams

As you re-think assessmetns in your course, you may be considering online take-home exam format for your final exam. We encourage you to consider the following 5 tips as you prepare your exams:

  1. Consider your course learning outcomes: Have your students already demonstrated that they have met the course learning outcomes?
    • If your students have already demonstrated that they have met the learning outcomes in the course, can you simplify or reweight the final exam?
    • If you plan a take home exam, highlight how the question or questions align with course outcomes.
    • Create a rubric to help your students see and understand your expectations and to help you with grading.


  1. Make your question something that isn’t easily “Googleable”
    • Instead of asking your students to recall or replicate information from the course, try to have your students 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, for they 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.
    • For a large class, if you had planned a final exam based on content for the entire semester, you could decide to reduce the content by selecting a limited number of topics to cover before the end of classes. You can still have your students complete the final exam at the scheduled time, but you deliver it as a timed, open-book exam on CourseLink. Let your students know they are expected to work alone within the given timeframe. In addition, consider developing multiple sets of questions and randomize these for your students. While this will not guarantee that your students work alone, it will make it more difficult for them to consult other sources for answers.
    • If applicable, test your question in Google!


  1. Make sure your question is time appropriate
    • Depending on how long your students have to respond to the final exam question or questions, make sure they can adequately respond in the time given. It is a delicate balance between giving your students too much time and too little.
    • Set a page or word limit. Think about what suits your context: it might make sense to have a few shorter questions rather than one longer essay-type question.


  1. Ask your students to help
    • You could ask your students to submit questions for consideration for the final exam. Keen students like to know 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.
    • Reiterate that academic conventions of university essay writing apply, if appropriate (e.g., clarify the citation style that your students should use).