3D Rotary Telephone

Lesson 3: Communicating Expectations

Online exams 

For face-to-face classes, one of the most common questions about an exam is “What is on the test?” Online exams can have different structures, though, making it imperative that you communicate to students ahead of time about factors such as the following: 

  • Length of time: How long will students have to write the exam? 

  • Exam window: If the exam is available during certain hours, let students know. For example, an exam might be available for any 2 hours during a 24-hour window, or it might be open for the entire 24 hours. 

  • Resources: State whether students are allowed to look at their course notes, any websites, the D2L course site, and/or other resources.  Details are very important here! 

  • Collaboration: Most students assume that exams are meant to be completed individually. However, it is recommended to reinforce this when communicating to students.  

  • Structure: Online exams can be structured so that students cannot go back and view or change previous answers. If you structure your exams this way, let students know and set up a short sample quiz for them to try it out before the exam date.  

  Effective online exams highlight asking higher order, application type questions. 


Practical strategies for transparent expectations and clear communication on exams

Practice exams 

  • Set up a practice exam for students to check out the functionality of online exams prior to writing them for grades. This could alleviate some student anxiety as they get a sense of what to expect when writing exams online.  

Frequent, low-stakes exams 

  • Rather than implementing a longer exam, schedule two or more shorter exams. Students will learn from experience what they can expect in future and better prepare for future exams.  

Variety in exam questions 

  • Incorporate variety in exam questions. Short answer and matching questions allow students to demonstrate their learning in a different way. Case-based questions and analysis questions emphasize deep thinking. 

Exam features for multiple choice questions  



Additional resources

Through a combination of research and practice, the Online Assessment in Higher Education Guide from the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning is a resource for instructors to help plan, design, and implement student assessments in fully online courses.

Download the assignment guidelines templates and use it to clearly communicate your expectations to your students.

Lesson checklist

  • Gain strategies for communicating expectations around assessment in online environments to students 

  • Examine sample assignment guidelines  

  • Modify a template for assignment guidelines 

More lessons

3D Game Console

Lesson 4: Grading and Feedback

3D Yellow Brain

Lesson 5: Types of Assessment

3D Orange Lion

Lesson 6: Academic Integrity in Assessments