Quizzes and Exams

Quizzes and Exams

Table of Contents

Quizzes and exams serve as significant formative and summative assessments that can focus and motivate students’ learning as well as provide critical feedback to the instructor. Periodic testing enhances students’ ability to recall and retain information, as well as infer, analyze, evaluate, and apply the knowledge in different contexts. For instructors, quizzes and exams can identify gaps in individual or group comprehension and retention. 

Determine the Purpose

Quizzes/exams provide students and the valuable instructor information about current knowledge and provide the means to test progress towards learning objectives. To provide this structure, use these three components: purpose, tasks, and success criteria from the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) Higher Education Project website

  • Purpose: Does your purpose statement specify a skill or skill set that students will gain? What content knowledge will students practice?
  • Tasks: Clarify steps on what to do and how to do it. 
    • Would students benefit from some practice quizzes (in the form of a pre-quiz) to prepare them to perform the task outside of class?
    • Communicate what resources (if any) they can use while taking an online quiz. Is it an open-book? Can they use their notes and all resources on the web? 
    • If it is an essay exam – How many words or pages? Is there a rubric that provides the criteria?
    • If you expect if it includes calculations, specify if you are interested in an outcome or the calculation steps. 
  • Criteria: Define the finished product’s characteristics (e.g., graded and returned, you will receive up to 10 points). Discuss how excellent work differs from adequate work (e.g., share the rubric, a checklist of success, completion of practice exams). 

Build a Question Bank

Make an investment in question banks that you can reuse over time. Creating multiple versions of a question that tests the same basic idea makes it so that students are unlikely to encounter a problem they have seen before. Create these question pools to use from one year to the next, and even share them among instructors.

To begin, construct a pool of questions and have the testing program randomly select for each quiz. By setting up a Question Bank, you can also draw random questions from a bank of questions, meaning that every student will get a different test; also, they will receive a new version of the quiz if you need to moderate a quiz for them. 

At first, writing multiple questions may seem tedious, but you can draw from it repeatedly as you slowly add to it each semester once you have created the pool. Then, over time, you can grow a pool of questions by changing one parameter, number, or condition. 

Things to know

  • Avoid: Using published test bank questions where students can find answers online or posting question banks/solution sets online can spread quickly and widely. 
  • Group question types. You may also break questions into banks by subject area and place similar question types into different banks (for example, “Chapter 7 multiple-choice questions” and “Chapter 7 essay questions”) if you need that level of granularity. This step ensures that questions in a bank are of similar difficulty and a similar type. For example, if both essay questions and multiple-choice questions are in a bank, there is a chance that one student will only get essay questions while another student will get only multiple-choice.
  • Interested in using equations in your quiz questions? Classic quiz questions support the Rich Content Editor’s use allowing for equations in the text of a problem or as choices in multiple-choice and multiple-answer questions. See Rich Content Editor documentation for details.
  • Want preface text? You can create a question in a quiz that does not include answers or point values. Use a text (no question) quiz question as a preface to an examination or a group of problems within a quiz. You may wish to use this type of question to include a passage of text, image, or video referenced in subsequent questions.
  • Is there a tool to help with it? The only Windows environment is the Respondus exam authoring tool, only available for a Windows environment. It allows instructors to create and manage exams, quizzes, surveys, and self-tests printed on paper or published directly to a Canvas course.

Provide Practice Quizzes

Build a very brief practice quiz for students to assess their technology readiness (e.g., use a syllabus quiz). Be sure to:

  • Create mock questions using every question type found in the quiz.
  • Specify the exact quiz details that will be used, except for the due date.
  • Allow unlimited attempts to be sure they are comfortable with the actual quiz or exam technology.
  • Ensure the same technology that students will use.
  • Include the Best practices for taking online tests page for your students to read before a quiz.

Create a Quiz in Canvas

Canvas makes grading quizzes fast and straightforward, saving you time. Canvas maintains quiz integrity by enabling time-stamped entries, auto-graded responses, instant feedback, annotations, and much more. If you are still using Classic Quizzes in Canvas, watch the Instructor Quizzes Overview video and bookmark the Canvas Quizzes guide’s extensive documentation. 

If you are working with New Quizzes in Canvas, review the CELT tips for migration and quiz setup (including our Canvas course of resources) for more information.

Modify When Answers and Grades are Displayed

Modify answer display settings

The default quiz question-answer option in Canvas lets students see the correct answers for all questions both as soon as they submit the quiz and at any point after that. For instructors to increase your exam’s security, it’s recommended you adjust your quiz settings to either let students see the answers only once after each attempt or do not allow students to see their responses at all in Canvas. In this case, establish a policy that stipulates that you will share exam answers after the exam period has ended and any potential make-up exams have been completed. For more information, review this Canvas guide, What options can I set in a quiz?

Modify grade viewing availability

When an instructor enters student grades in an online grade center, such as the one available in Canvas, students can see their grades immediately. Confidentiality is ensured because each student sees their grades. Students have a chance to see and digest their grades outside of class, reducing the amount of in-class time spent on returning papers and discussing grades. Students who can see their scores quickly have the opportunity to adjust their strategies and improve their performance. For example, if a student sees that their weekly participation grade is low, they can be aware before the next class meeting and participate more actively.

When do you want your students to see their grades?

By default, Canvas allows students to see assignment grades as soon as the instructor has graded the assignment.

  • If you wish to prevent students from viewing quiz scores, you should hide the quiz grades until they have taken them. This step will overwrite your other quiz settings that have to do with the feedback release. Your students will not see any quiz feedback (including the score) when the quiz grade is hidden, including any responses to the questions.
  • Remember to post the quiz grades promptly, view the post grades for an assignment in the Gradebook web guide.

Tip: If you do not want students to view their total grade, you can hide the total grade from students doing the steps found in the hide totals in my students’ grade summaries web guide.

Do you want to see where students had difficulties with the quiz?

Use Quiz Statistics to identify areas where students had the most difficulty. The Quiz Statistics page includes:

  • Quiz Summary: Graph indicating the quiz scored percentages and the number of students who received each percentage.
  • Question Breakdown: Breakdown of each question answer choice and the number of respondents who selected the answer.
  • Student Analysis — This is a tabular representation of each student’s answers and the grade awarded for each answer.
  • Item Analysis — Statistics for Multiple Choice and True/False questions.

Summarize these findings and clarify topics as needed in a Canvas Announcement.

Do you need to correct or regrade a quiz?

If a published quiz needs to be corrected, you have several options for correcting the quiz and correcting student grades.

However, quiz regrade only works with Multiple Choice, True/False, and Multiple Answers question types and only applies to students who have already taken the quiz. Read through the options I can use to regrade a quiz on a course page.

Check Accessibility

Canvas makes it easy to incorporate extended time accommodations on timed assignments, by adding students with such accommodations to a group within Canvas and specifying exceptions in the assessment settings. Review these tips for developing an accessible Canvas course, including your assessments.

We encourage you to ask how best to accommodate students via the Student Accessibility Services staff at 515-294-7220 or email accessibility@iastate.edu.

Essential Resources and Instructional Strategies

Quizzes can be graded, used as practice for exams, or help students gauge their understanding of course topics and methods (use the Low and High-Stakes Quizzes in Canvas). Below are some ideas and resources on how to execute quizzes and exams in face-to-face, online, and hybrid courses across disciplines:

  • Canvas meets Iowa State University’s standards for security and privacy, including Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA). Review ISU’s FERPA page.
  • Online Quizzes have multiple question types. The types include multiple-choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank or multiple-blanks, multiple answers, scale, matching, and numerical answer formula (simple formula and single variable). Explanations are found in the create a quiz guide. The added benefit of instant results for the instructor and, with formats such as multiple choice quizzes, instant grading, and feedback for students as well.
  • Quizzes may be set to accommodate individual students, groups, or sections. See the How-to Guide for Student Accommodations in Canvas for resources specific to ISU.
  • For Essay exams, use the Assignments tool. The assignment tool allows you to use SpeedGrader to provide feedback, mark up submissions, and assign points. Learn more from the Canvas SpeedGrader guide, or view a video about SpeedGrader.

A meaningful and purposeful assessment paired with constructive feedback.

A meaningful and purposeful assessment paired with constructive feedback.

Determine an appropriate way to assess your students.


  • Canvas Guide to Quizzes for Instructors. Retrieved from https://go.iastate.edu/ZDDEN2
  • Cushard, B. (2013). Three benefits of quizzes in e-learning. Retrieved from https://go.iastate.edu/EJBVVE
  • Developing and using tests effectively: A guide for faculty. Jossey-Bass.

Quizzes and Exams, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Quizzes and Exams, is a derivative of Quizzes and Exams developed by University of California-Davis EdTech Commons (retrieved on May 13, 2020) from http://edtech.ucdavis.edu/teaching/quizzes-exams-2/, and Conduct exams via Canvas developed by the Keep Teaching Series at Indiana University (retrieved on March 15, 2021) from https://keepteaching.iu.edu/resources/webinar-recordings/conduct-exams-via-canvas.html, and Best practices for delivering online quizzes and exams in Canvas developed by Learn@UW Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison from (retrieved on March 17, 2021) from https://kb.wisc.edu/luwmad/page.php?id=101386