Best Practices for Blackboard Exams

There are many advantages to using the testing features of Blackboard:

  1. If you use question types that have a clear right answer (for example, multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, etc.), Blackboard will grade the test for you, which saves a lot of (occasionally tedious) work on your part.
  2. You can provide feedback for correct and incorrect answers (or even for individual responses), and students can receive the feedback after they submit their quiz/test/exam, which promotes student learning.
  3. You can allow multiple attempts for a test and/or not count the test as part of the student's final grade, which allows students to use the test for self-assessment purposes, to determine (based on the test results) what materials they need to study in more depth.
Even though tests delivered via Blackboard can be worthwhile, we generally recommend that you don't use Blackboard for high-stakes tests that contribute to a significant part of a student's overall course grade. We also recommend the following settings and advice for quizzes/tests/exams delivered via Blackboard, to avoid student problems:
  1. Recommendation: Keep "Force Completion" unchecked when setting the test options.

    Explanation: When you are deploying the test in your course, you need to set a series of options, as we describe here (page opens in new window). The most important recommendation we can make about Blackboard tests applies to the "Test Availability" section (Section 2). Within that section, make sure that you do not check "Force Completion." Force Completion sounds like a good idea in principle, since it would prevent a student from launching a test, printing out the questions, closing out the test, and then returning to it later after having researched the questions in detail. However, Force Completion causes many more problems than it solves. There are many ways for a student to be accidentally "bumped out" of a Blackboard test - for example, using the browser back button instead of built-in test controls, accidentally closing out the browser window, having a connection timed out because of inactivity, etc. If Force Completion is checked, then the student won't be able to save his/her progress on the test, and if the test is accidentally disrupted, the only recourse is for you to clear the entire attempt, which means that the student has to take the test all over again. This ends up being very frustrating for you and for the student(s). If you are worried about cheating, a better solution is to provide a time limit for the test, since the clock begins as soon as the student launches the test. You can also make the test available within a limited time window, which would also make it hard for a student to print out the test, look up all the answers, and then try to answer all the questions within that window (and/or time limit) you've provided. In short, please do not check Force Completion when setting the Test Availability options.

  2. Recommendation: Don't give long tests via Blackboard. Although there is no exact rule here, if your test will take between an hour and two hours (or longer) for students to complete, you might want to consider dividing the test into two (or more) parts, with each part created as a separate test. You might also consider presenting the questions one at a time, rather than all at once.

    Explanation: If you randomize your test questions, the actual session remains only in java memory, and java sessions can time out if too much time elapses with no apparent activity on the student's part. This is another reason why you do not want to check Force Completion. If students can save their answers while taking the test (which is possible when Force Completion is not checked), they can make sure that their session persists in memory, and they can also return to the place where they last saved the test if any problem should occur. The longer the test, the greater the possibility for java, Internet connection, and other session time-outs. One additional solution to this problem is to display your questions one at a time (rather than all at once), but that requires students to click multiple times to submit each question (once to submit the answer, and once to confirm the submission), which can ultimately become annoying.

  3. Recommendation: Your students should save their answers while working on the test, although not too frequently. (Every 10 to 15 minutes is the recommended frequency.)

    Explanation: According to Blackboard, frequent saves by all the students taking the test at the same time can potentially overload the application (depending of course on the size of the test and the number of students taking it). Blackboard recommends that students save the test every 10 to 15 minutes, so that students can return to a fairly recent point in a test if something causes them to be kicked out of the test. Once again, saving is possible only if you do not check Force Completion. ;-)

  4. Recommendation: When students launch the exam, they need to be careful to click only once on the link for the exam.

    Explanation: If a student double-clicks on the link for the exam, that can actually launch two separate instances of the exam, which can confuse the server and lead to possible data corruption.

  5. Recommendation: In proctored situations (with a number of students taking the exam at the same time), it's a good idea for students to stagger their submissions of the exam, to avoid having a large number of students submitting their exams at the same time.

    Explanation: Too many students submitting their exam at the same time - especially for exams where all the questions are given to the students on one screen - can overload the server.

  6. Recommendation: If you are presenting the exam to students one question at a time, students need to be careful not to click on the back button for the browser itself. They need to use the test navigation controls within Blackboard itself. In addition, students should not resize the browser window after beginning the test. If they want their browser to take up the full computer screen, they should resize the browser window before launching the test.

    Explanation: When a student clicks on the browser's back button or resizes the browser window, Blackboard actually tries to re-load the quiz. If you have Force Completion checked, that will actually result in an error message, and students will be prevented from completing the quiz. Yes - this is another reason why you want to make sure not to check Force Completion as one of the test options.

Last revised November 16, 2010.  Please send questions or comments to