Running assessments online

The Digital Education Office strongly encourages anyone planning to run an online summative Blackboard Test assessment to contact us well in advance for a consultation, as there are a number of technical, pedagogical and resource considerations that should be taken into account. If you have already set up a test, we can offer a health check on test settings before you make it available to students. For a health check, we require at least two weeks' notice prior to the test to review your settings, plus any additional time for you to implement recommendations.

Reducing risk when running online exams

The recommendations below cover both MCQ and file submission types (eg download/upload). This guidance aims to assist staff in Schools who are involved in supporting online exams or other summative assessments before, during, or after.


Preparing assessments

  • Check assessments content and format thoroughly. Use the tryout options (eg test account) to ensure that the digital format works as expected.
  • Encourage staff and students to sign up to the DEO blog to ensure they receive immediate notifications of any suspected issues.
  • If authoring questions in online tests check these from a student perspective, to ensure they display correctly and work as expected. Read our guidance on using images in Blackboard test.
  • Where possible ensure that students have an alternative way to access additional content such as images or videos (eg an external link below the content to OneDrive or SharePoint) in case these do not render properly during the exam).
  • Prepare contingency plans / a ‘plan B’ for the event of technical failure (eg, wait for the issue to resolve and proceed with the exam, reschedule the assessment, use an alternative format such as a downloadable copy of the exam).
  • Communicate to your students before the exam starts what they should do in the event of a technical failure (eg wait for the system to come back and continue as normal, await further instructions)

Releasing the assessment

  • Ensure that students can access exam content if they are abroad (certain countries may block content).
  • Configure assessments to allow students to submit late / after a due date or deadline in the event of a major technical issue.
  • Ensure the timings for the exam include the extra time to allow for short-term technical issues as well as for AEAs as indicated.
  • Use a familiar, secure and reliable way of releasing assessments, eg adaptive release, passwords.
  • Start the assessment at a single time, but make allowance for students who might need individual arrangements.
  • For programmes with a lot of students sitting in different time zones, it may nevertheless be necessary to consider a second sitting at a different time.
  • Choose a consistent start time for assessments taken by the same cohort.
  • Stagger start times between different cohorts or year groups.


  • Prepare communications which may be required in the event of issues. Ensure students are aware before the exam starts of where to report issues during exams. 
  • Provide clear instructions and guidance for students on the format of the assessment, both in advance and with the assessment itself.
  • Give central teams (Exams, DEO) as much information about your exams as possible.
  • Encourage staff and students to sign up to the DEO blog to ensure they receive immediate notifications of any suspected issues

Supporting Students

  • Run a practice with students with the same configuration as the exam
  • Advise students to keep a local copy of their work.
  • Recommend that students set their own alarms if they are worried about not having the usual invigilator announcements or prompts.
  • Encourage students to follow communicated procedures in the event of technical issues.

Dealing with issues

  • Agree on troubleshooting options for both technical and procedural issues and decide what types of problems you will try to resolve before you implement your plan B, and who will be responsible for troubleshooting.
  • Provide clear guidance to staff on how to advise students who have problems and cannot complete the assessment.
  • Communicate your backup plan to your students before the exam starts, and explain what if anything they should do (eg wait for the system to come back and continue as normal).
  • Ensure students are aware that they need to contact their School Office in the first instance if they have a problem as per Alternative arrangements (AEAs) and online exams
  • Remind students that if they suspect that there is an error in an assessment, they should answer the question to the best of their ability and make a note in their answer.

Download/Upload Exams

  • Use a familiar, secure and reliable way for students to upload assessments
  • Be very clear about the format of any documents that you expect students to submit
  • Use a consistent filename convention
  • Put the responsibility on students to submit in the correct format
  • Do not allow markers to start marking before checking that the submission process has been completed.


Dealing with Issues

  • Encourage students to follow communicated procedures in the event of technical issues
  • Direct students who encounter issues to relevant contacts in the School Office.
  • Follow your plan B if necessary.
  • Do not make changes to technical configuration of tests while they are open, apart from to allow additional attempts if required
  • Monitor progress (eg by checking the Blackboard Grade Centre).
  • Check the DEO blog for any live updates on problems or incidents.
  • Follow your School guidance on queries over possible errors in assessments.


Dealing with Issues

  • Send out communication, acknowledging the issue and providing re-assurance to students.
  • Review submission/ completion data to assess the impact of any issue.
  • Document any issues and their impact as soon as possible, eg via exam incident report form.
  • In the event you need to reschedule your exam ensure that you have let the Exams Office know.


Ensure that markers provide sufficient annotation on student work to indicate how and/or why marks have been awarded

Assessment Clinics

The DEO offers Assessment Clinics to support staff who are preparing for or running assessments online.

How to request a booking:

Email with the Subject Assessment Clinic Booking. Please specify:

  • whether your query relates to a Blackboard assignment, a Blackboard test, a Turnitin assignment, or something else.
  • 2 options for days and times that work for you. Slots will be 30 mins long.

We will be in touch to confirm the clinic.