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 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. For additional information, watch the Instructor Quizzes Overview video and bookmark the Canvas Quizzes guide’s extensive documentation. Note: Iowa State uses the “Classic” Quizzes tool in Canvas; see the update on New Quizzes to learn about the features still required before implementation at ISU is possible. 

Would you like to use a quiz from a previous course? 

You can copy it from one course to another one. To get started, use the copy of a quiz to another Canvas course guide. Then, follow the steps below.

Do you want to create a new quiz?

  1. Log in to Canvas and go to your course.
  2. In your Canvas course, navigate to the Quiz Index page from your Course Menu (left side of your screen). 
  3. Click Add Quiz (+ Quiz upper right corner) to open the new/unnamed quiz page, also known as the Details tab
  4. Type a name for the quiz and precise information in the text boxes. When teaching online, you should assume your students only know what you have typed. With this in mind, share the following:
    1. Purpose. Explain why and how this assessment fits into the class’s broader scheme and clarify the various sources of information students will be tested on (such as from the course lectures, textbook, outside reading, etc.); see the assessment’s purpose section
    2. Give explicit instructions. In the quiz instructions in Canvas to make your expectations straightforward:
      1. What materials can/should I have available?
        • Open book: [YES/NO]
        • Open note: [YES/NO]
        • Consult classmates or peers: [YES/NO]
        • Consult internet or other resources: [YES/NO]
      2. What technological requirements are needed to complete this exam?
        • [Enter any necessary software/hardware; examples below]
        • Canvas via an internet browser (such as Chrome or Firefox)
        • Consistent internet connection
        • Webcam and microphone
      3. What if I have technical issues during the exam?
        • If you have questions about or issues with any of the technology used in this course, please contact the IT Solution Center, solution@iastate.edu, or call 515-294-4000.
  5. Select the Graded quiz type (types available for use in Canvas). Is it graded? Select the method you want to use for grading. You can grade your quiz by percentage or points and complete/incomplete or as not graded. Use Canvas rubrics when grading student work because they help make grading more transparent and offer feedback.
  6. Choose the Assignment Group.
  7. Under the Options subheading, you can choose from the following:
    1. The Shuffle Answers feature applies to every question on your Canvas quiz. Only check the Shuffle Answers box if you do not use multiple-choice or multiple-answer questions that rely on the answer choices’ display order. To adopt this practice, review the following options:
      1. What options can I set in a quiz, such as shuffling answers? 
      2. For a wildcard-type question in Canvas, consider creating a Fill-in-the-Blank quiz question; instructors enter the text for the possible solutions (currently, fill-in-the-blank answers are not case sensitive). 
    2. Do you want to set a Time Limit? Please enter the number of minutes or leave it blank. 
    3. Do you want to allow Multiple Attempts? Check this box if you choose; it is helpful for low-stakes or practice quizzes.
  8. Review the learner-centered practices on why to NOT activate the ‘show one question at a time’ and ‘lock questions’ feature. By default, Canvas presents the quiz questions to the student in a single, constant stream. CELT considers it a learner-centered practice to show all questions at once because it: 
    1. Allows students to scroll through all the questions, complete those they know quickly first and return easily to those they skipped. Another way to view this is that students can focus on the easier ones; while the responses to the more challenging questions are brewing at the back of their minds, they can go back to more complex problems. This shifting attention is easier to accomplish if all questions show at once. 
    2. It also reduces the time it takes to click back and forth to find questions, and if there is limited-time can cause anxiety.
    3. Students will be less likely to experience anxiety because they can double-check their work if all questions show at once. 
  9. In the Quiz Restrictions section of the quiz options, you have the following options to maximize security:
    1. Require an access code. The access code function allows the instructor to set a code that students must enter to take the quiz. Change the code as frequently as needed.
    2. Filter IP Addresses. Note: Do not restrict IP due to Course Continuity.
    3. Require Respondus Lockdown Browser, a custom browser that locks down the testing environment within Canvas. Once a student starts the assessment with Lockdown Browser, they cannot print, copy, go to another URL, or access another application until they submit it for grading.
  10. Assign the due date and availability. You can assign a quiz to everyone, a course section(s), or an individual student. Ensure that you assign the due date and set the specific availability period when your students can complete it; view the difference between due dates and availability dates in the Canvas web guideTip: Once you create a due date for the quiz, the Canvas syllabus page will display it in the course summary for your students (view the student Syllabus guide). 
  11. Add questions by selecting the “Questions” tab (located above the quiz name), then click “+ New Question.” If you built a question bank, you will already have questions to add to the quiz. To learn about the question types, read the Create a quiz guide.
    1. Optional: Do you want to randomize or reorder questions? Creating a question group randomizes questions within a quiz. To learn more, review the following guides:
      1. For quizzes with random questions, use the create a question group to randomize quiz questions guide. 
      2. To reorder questions or groups, follow the reorder questions or question groups in a quiz guide.
  12. Accommodations. Implement any steps necessary to accommodate your students; 
    1. Use CELT’s how-to guide for student accommodations in the Canvas web guide
    2. Questions about accommodation? Contact Student Accessibility Services via email at accessibility@iastate.edu.
  13. Use the Student Preview. An especially critical step to predict how your exam will look for students in Canvas is to test it beforehand. Every Canvas course comes with a preloaded “test student,” which you can use to complete the exam in a Student View. Then, after exiting Student View, you can go to the Grades tool, locate the test student (at the bottom of the roster), and review the exam that you just completed as the test student. For more information, check the Student View guide.
  14. Ready to publish. When you create Quizzes, you will want to ensure that everything appears as it should before publishing the quiz; they’re going to be unpublished initially.
    1. “Published” is visible to students and included in grade calculations.
    2. “Unpublished” is invisible to students and excluded from grade calculations (nothing in your Gradebook, not shown or included in any way in each student’s Grades).
    3. Note: If your Quiz status is unpublished, the assignment will show the Save & Publish button. The Save button will create a draft of your assignment for you to publish later.

Modify when students see the answers and grades

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.

Support your students during the exam

By default, quizzes you create in your course will be assigned to everyone.

In a timed quiz, as the time expires Canvas will make an auto-submission for your students.

  • Tip: Please warn your students it is a good practice to take a timed quiz in one sitting.

When a student views a timed quiz and time expire, Canvas auto-submits the quiz.

However, if a student navigates away from the quiz page, the quiz submission remains outstanding.

On the Moderate Quiz page, Canvas generates a warning message about the outstanding submission. You can submit outstanding quiz submissions, using the How do I manually submit outstanding student quiz submissions? web guide.

  • Tip: Please note, only timed outstanding quizzes can be manually submitted. Quizzes that are not timed and outstanding will remain active until the availability date has passed, at which point such quizzes will be submitted automatically.

Make it accessible

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. See the How-to Guide for Student Accommodations in Canvas web guide.

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.

Choose the exam tools

  • Essay exams: Use Canvas Assignments for essay exams (recommend File Upload option). Do not ask multiple graders to enter grades at the same time in SpeedGrader, or they will overwrite each other’s work; download all files and have one person submit the scores in Gradebook.

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 on 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.
  • A benefit for students using Quizzes is the Syllabus (in Canvas). This feature lists all deadlines for all assignments, and the grades for quizzes will appear on their personal Grades page. Review and share the Best Practices for Taking Online Tests (Students) web guide by adding a link to your course.
  • 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