A guide to take-home exams

Advice to module leaders who are preparing take-home exams for students

The content below is a compilation of information developed for specific faculties/student groups and also includes this link to Kay Sambell’s and Sally Brown’s Coronavirus Contingency Suggestions for replacing on-site exams. You might find some of the suggestions on this page helpful in producing the best quality take-home exams.

Avoid questions that:

  • Ask students to recall knowledge/definitions.
  • Are based on commonly available case studies, examples or anything that can be easily copied and pasted from online sources.
  • Require short answers that are likely to be similar between students in the cohort.
  • Have patterns of answers that could be easily shared, e.g. MCQs, or that can be copied and pasted, e.g. calculations on same data.
  • Have been used in previous years.

Focus on:

  • Asking students to apply, analyse, critique or evaluate knowledge.
  • Use of personal and recent examples, contextualising to own experience, and personal reflection.
  • Longer report or essay style answers that allow greater detection of likely collusion.
  • Consideration of giving students different examples or data sets to work from, where manageable (via timed email and mail merge).
  • Clarity of language with clear instructions and questions.
    • This may require a change from the original task: work with your SAHOD if this impacts on marking. Seek support from your Deputy Head of Department for ideas for alternative formats.
    • Provide maximum word counts for each answer (no +/- 10% for consistency).
    • Provide an estimate of actual time to be spent on the assessment, probably 1.5 times the usual exam time (more for those with RAs) within the assessment window.

Online Assessment Design Checklist

  • The standardised pre-assessment guide and assessment release brief have been used, and these are largely the same wording except for the specific questions/tasks. All red text has been amended or deleted.
  • The assignment has been checked using the accessibility checker on Word.
  • The assignment has been developed in line with the guidelines to create the best quality assessment (above).
  • No questions have been used from previous years.
  • The assessment uses language and terms the student will recognise from this or previous modules.
  • Word counts (for each section) and guidance times (for the whole assessment) have been provided.

(Thanks to colleagues in FBL for the above advice)

Examples/templates for take-home exams
Other departments may find this downloadable example/template being used in DGEM for take-home exams that includes a marking rubric useful. Please tailor it to suit your own circumstances.

There is also a downloadable document with arrangements/rubrics for take-home exams which can be adapted and sent to students. Again, please tailor the content to suit your own module’s needs.

Student guidance for hand-written/hand-drawn take-home exams

The guidance below (also available as a downloadable Word document) is being sent to students in week beginning 06/04/2020.

Writing answers and drawing diagrams by hand

To hand-write/hand-draw answers to your exam questions you need:

  • Clean sheets of blank or lined white paper – enough for all the answers needed plus some spare sheets in case of errors.
  • A pen (do not use pencil) that writes well with a good quality black or blue line – thin writing is harder to read in a photograph. It is a good idea to have a spare pen too, in case one runs out.
  • It is best (because it makes it easier to take legible photographs of them) if you have separate pieces of paper rather than papers bound together in a notebook, for example.
  • Write the page number (e.g. ‘page 1 of 5’) clearly in the top right corner of each page.
  • Write the question number clearly in the top left corner.
  • Start a new page for each new question.
  • It helps if you leave a margin on either side of your answers, so no information is lost if the photograph of your answer does not cover 100% of the page.

Photographing your handwritten answers

To take photographs of your answers on paper you need:

  • A smartphone with digital camera or a separate digital camera.
  • Good lighting – so your answers can be photographed easily.
  • The ability to take photographs of your paper so that your answers are clear and legible.

Tips for taking photographs of handwritten answers:

  • Take one photograph of each piece of paper you use (e.g. if you use 8 pieces of paper, take 8 photographs).
  • Write on one side of the paper only, in case your answers show through on the other side.
  • Make sure the paper is well and evenly lit without any shadows. Natural daylight is best. It is best NOT to use the flash on your camera as this can cause glare and make the writing illegible.
  • Try as best as you can to flatten the pages before taking the picture. This can be difficult with bound notebooks so use separate pieces of paper (i.e. not in a bound notebook) if possible. If necessary, use scissors to cut pages out of a bound notebook.
  • Hold the camera lens directly over the paper and face the lens directly downwards, not at an angle.
  • Be aware that on smartphones and tablet devices the camera lens is likely to be in the corner or top of the device.
  • Position the camera lens directly towards the centre of the sheet of paper.
  • Try to fill the image in the camera viewfinder/screen with the written answers – move the camera vertically up or down to do this.
  • Make sure you do not miss any part of your answer in the photograph. It helps if you leave a margin on either side of your answers, so no information is lost if the photograph does not cover 100% of the page.
  • Take high resolution/quality photographs. Low resolution/quality images may not be legible.
  • Check that your photographs are in focus and legible before submitting them via Blackboard.
  • DO NOT use any apps/software that converts your handwritten answers into digital characters, e.g. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) apps/software. Using these involves the risk that your written answers are interpreted incorrectly and are changed by the software.
  • You may use apps/software to combine your photographs/images into a single file (e.g. into a PDF) but it is your responsibility to ensure you know how the app/software.
  • If you choose to use an app/software to assist you in creating images of your answers, it is your responsibility to check your answers are clearly legible.
  • Make sure no file to be submitted exceeds 25mb – the maximum file size Blackboard accepts.

Submitting your photographs via Blackboard

Once you have photographed your answers you need to submit all of your files in one submission via Blackboard. We recommend submitting separate image files (one image for each piece of paper used). Regardless of the type(s) of file submitted, the handwriting/drawings in the images must be legible.

  • You will find the submission point under Assignments in your Blackboard module.
  • In page number order, attach all of the files you want to submit to a single submission.
  • You can make as many submissions as you wish before the deadline but only the last submission you make will be marked. It is, therefore, essential that you attach all the files you want to be marked to each submission attempt.

The following types of files will be accepted for marking:

  • .jpg
  • .jpeg
  • .png
  • .gif
  • .pdf
  • .docx

Submitting using a smartphone or tablet device:

  • You can use a smartphone or tablet device to access Blackboard using either a web browser or the Blackboard App. This is probably the easiest way to submit photographs taken with your smartphone as the photos are already on the same device you will use to submit them.
  • It is important to be aware that if your phone is not connected to the Internet by wifi it will use some of your mobile data allowance to submit your files. How much data is used depends on the size of the files you submit, so make sure you have enough mobile data allowance to submit successfully. It is much better to use wifi if you can.

Submitting using a laptop/desktop computer:

  • You will need to transfer the photographs to the laptop/desktop computer first and it is important to make sure you can do this reliably before you start the exam.
  • There are many different ways to transfer photographs from a smartphone, tablet device or digital camera (e.g. memory card, a wire between camera device and laptop/desktop, via a cloud service, or emailing them to yourself). It will depend what specific devices you are using. Practise transferring photographs to your laptop/desktop in good time before the exam.

Practise photographing and submitting hand-written/hand-drawn answers

You will be given the opportunity to make a practice submission of hand-written/hand-drawn answers via your Programme site in Blackboard. This allows you to make sure you can take legible photographs of your answers and can submit these successfully via Blackboard. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity as you may not have time to deal with any technical difficulties you have during the exam.

Photo credit: Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay