Quizzes and Exams

Quizzes and Exams

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.

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.

Begin with these steps below

Canvas makes grading quizzes fast and simple, 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 (at right) and bookmark the extensive documentation found on the Canvas Quizzes guide.

Note: See the update on New Quizzes to learn about the features still required before implementation at ISU is possible. 

Exams pose a particular challenge in a situation where everyone is on their own. The online format does not allow instructors the same ability to proctor exams as they have in face-to-face classes. To minimize incidents of academic integrity violations while ensuring that your online exams accurately capture student learning, consider the following suggestions:

  • Start with a practice exam. If this is the first time using an online exam in your course (referred to as a quiz in Canvas), consider providing a practice, non-graded Canvas quiz so students can become familiar with the process (e.g., use a syllabus quiz).
  • Allow open-book/source exams and quizzes. Assume students will use resources while taking an exam/quiz and encourage them to do so. Ask questions that probe deeper levels of knowledge and understanding, enabling students to apply, assess, and evaluate concepts and facts in meaningful ways. Encourage students to identify where they get information and what resources they use. Encourage students to cite sources and critique sources for credibility. Focus on solving problems while showing work and explanations: Having students show/articulate their thinking reveals the depth of their understanding. Sometimes there may only be a few ways to demonstrate work, so you may ask for brief prose explanations or have students record a video talking through the process to solve a question. You could also ask scenario-based questions and require short and concrete answers, which allow students to demonstrate their application of key course concepts. For additional insight, read Open Book Exam Instructional Strategies page.
  • Ask students to generate their questions and explain their answers. Invite each student to create one or two questions along with explanations of how these would assess a specific topic or skill in a meaningful way. You might also assign students to answer each other’s questions to evaluate whether those questions assess identified items in essential ways. This assignment may work best on a discussion board.
  • Consider question formats leading to essays, videos, pictures, and other personal responses. If your class lends itself to creative and personalized forms of writing/speaking/communicating, encourage students to create essays and use videos, pictures, and other media in Canvas discussion boards. You could also have students post their responses and critique each other’s work through peer review in Canvas assignments and discussions. Rubrics can help guide students as they develop such work, give each other feedback, and allow for a consistent method of assessment.
  • Use question banks and question groups. If you have short-answer or multiple-choice questions, create question banks, or use question groups in your Canvas quizzes. This step ensures that students receive different sets of questions or the same questions displayed in random order. Alternatively, use essay questions in this same manner.
  • Ensure clarity in questions. Your quizzes should measure student achievement of the stated skills, knowledge, and attitudes and be appropriate to the level of the course. Use precise language and avoid jargon unless the latter is discipline-specific and necessary for assessing the depth of student knowledge.
  • Ensure clarity in exam directions. Identify any time limitations, due dates/times (including time zone), and how the assessment links to learning objectives for the course. Give specific directions on how to answer a question or complete a task.
  • Allow multiple attempts and use short and frequent quizzes in Canvas. These work well for long-term knowledge retrieval and retention and serve numerous purposes. In essence, students can quickly gauge where they are in their learning, and instructors can seize the opportunity for early intervention and feedback.
  • Provide feedback for quizzes. In Canvas, it is easy to add comments for each correct and incorrect answer or give general feedback on the entire exam. This step will allow students to see their responses upon quiz completion and also receive automated corrections.
  • Promote academic integrity. If relevant, consider putting a statement in the directions for the exam and include a multiple-choice question asking students to abide by the Iowa State University Academic Misconduct guidelines. Include a reference to these policies in the quiz directions and course-wide announcements to remind students of the importance of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and their responsibility inside and outside of academic life. Invite students to contribute to the creation of an academic integrity statement or have those who work in teams/groups create a Team Code of Ethics so they can hold each other accountable.
  • Respect your own time. Implementing these ideas and grading, resulting in student work, takes time. Determine what is feasible in your situation and use intensive grading assessments sparingly. Consider how much feedback students need or will use. Many times, feedback can be created for the whole group based on common challenges or problems, as opposed to individual responses, and distributed via course-wide announcements in Canvas. Grading rubrics are also helpful.
  1. Go to your course in Canvas.
  2. Choose the Quizzes link from the Course menu (left side of your screen). Iowa State uses the “Classic” Quizzes tool in Canvas.
  3. Consider providing the following in the Quiz details:
    • 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. Does your description help students to focus their time efficiently on producing the highest quality work possible in the time given? Would students benefit from some practice quizzes (in the form of a pre-quiz) in class to prepare them to perform the task outside of class?
    • Criteria: How will students determine whether they are completing the quiz efficiently and effectively? For example:
      • Clearly communicate to students what resources (if any) they can use while taking an online quiz. Are the quizzes open book? Open note? Open to all resources on the net?
      • How many words, or pages, you expect; if it includes calculations, specify if you are interested in an outcome, or the calculation steps.
      • Finally, provide examples and strategies for students to improve their work.
        (Learn more about this framework from the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) Higher Ed website)
  4. Select the Graded quiz type (types available for use in Canvas).
    • If it is graded, select the method you want to use for grading. You can grade your Quiz by percentage or points, but also with complete/incomplete, or as not graded. Use Canvas rubrics when grading student work because they help to make grading more transparent and offer context for feedback.
    • Optional: The Shuffle Answers option will apply to every question on your Canvas quiz. Only check the Shuffle Answers box if you do not use any multiple choice or multiple answer questions that rely on the display order of the answer choices. For example, if any of your answer choices say “both A and B are correct”, “C only is correct”, or “all of the above”, etc., we do not recommend that you shuffle your quiz answers.
  5. Add questions by selecting the “Questions” tab, then click “+ New Question.” To learn about the question types read the Create a quiz guide.
  6. Maximize the security of your quizzes, by using the Quiz Settings to Maximize Security web guide. Some of the tips include:
  7. Create a due date for the Quiz so that it is clear when students should finish it. Every student will be informed on due dates through the Syllabus of your course (view the student Syllabus guide). You furthermore have the option to set availability dates that restrict the times that an Quizzes can be submitted.
  8. Bookmark and review the How-to Guide for Student Accommodations in Canvas web guide. Implement any steps necessary to accommodate your students (Questions about an accommodation? Contact Student Accessibility Services via email at accessibility@iastate.edu).
  9. Use the Preview feature to ensure that everything appears as it should prior to publishing the quiz, When you create Quizzes, they’re going to be unpublished initially. What does this mean?
    • “Published” means visible to students and included in grade calculations.
    • “Unpublished” means invisible to students and excluded from grade calculations (nothing in your Gradebook, not shown or included in any way in each student’s individual Grades).

Note: If your Quiz has not yet been published, the assignment will show the Save & Publish button. The Save button will create a draft of your assignment for you to publish later.

Create a very brief practice quiz for students to assess their technology-readiness. Be sure to:

  • Create mock questions using every question type found in the quiz.
  • Specify the exact same quiz details, except for the due date.
  • Allow unlimited attempts so students can be sure they are absolutely comfortable with the technology needed for the real quiz or exam.
  • Ensure the same technology is used (e.g., Respondus LockDown Browser, Monitor, Webex).

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 expires, 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.

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 What options can I use to regrade a quiz in a course? page.

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 all students have taken it. This 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 in a timely manner. View the How do I post grades for an assignment in the Gradebook? web guide.
  • Tip: If you do not want students to be able to view their total grade, you can hide the total grade from students, view the steps found in the How do I hide totals in my students’ grade summaries? web guide.

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 — 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. See ‘How do I add an announcement in a course?‘ for details.

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

Developing Quizzes and Questions

  • Interested in using equations in your quiz questions? Classic quiz questions support use of the Rich Content Editor 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.
  • A quiz can be copied from one course to another by using Direct Share in Canvas.
  • You can create a question in a quiz that does not include answers or point values. A text (no question) quiz question can be used as a preface to a quiz or a group of questions within a quiz. You may wish to use this type of question to include a passage of text, image, or video that will be referenced in subsequent questions.
  • Make an investment in question banks that you can reuse over time. Many instructors note that students save copies of the online quiz questions for later studying. Often, these study resources are shared a within study groups and among friends. If this is a concern for you, consider creating multiple versions of a question that tests the same basic idea so that a student is unlikely to encounter a problem they have seen before. Create these question pools to use from one year to the next, and even share it among instructors.


  • 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 on sees his/her own grades.
  • Students have a chance to see and digest their grade outside of class, reducing the amount of in class time spent on returning papers and discussing grades.
  • Students who have a chance to 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 prepare to participate more actively.
  • Canvas grade book also have an option to calculate a student’s overall course grades, so students can track their progress in the class, reducing the chance of a surprise at the end of term.
  • Canvas Assignments and Quizzes are integrated with the grade book, so grades recorded there can automatically appear in the grade center.W

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.

  • Canvas quizzes: A meaningful and purposeful assessment paired with constructive feedback can help learners understand and address their achievement gaps and organize future learning. Canvas quizzes provide a way for instructors to deliver helpful feedback, assess and accommodate learning. View the Low and High-Stakes Quizzes in Canvas web guide.
  • Replicate bubble sheet tests: Use the multiple-choice exam in Canvas. Create a Canvas quiz with multiple versions of the same question to increase exam integrity. For previously scheduled ISU Online Testing Center exams, consider:
  • 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.

Instructional Strategies

A meaningful and purposeful assessment paired with constructive feedback.

Determine an appropriate way to assess your students.


A meaningful and purposeful assessment paired with constructive feedback.

References & Resources

  • Canvas Guide to Quizzes for Instructors. Retrieved from https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-10460-canvas-instructor-guide-table-of-contents#jive_content_id_Quizzes
  • Cushard, B. (2013). Three benefits of quizzes in e-learning. Retrieved from https://www.mindflash.com/blog/three-benefits-of-quizzes-in-e-learning/
  • Jacobs, L. C., and Chase, C. I. (1992). Developing and Using Tests Effectively: A Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: 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/.