Giving Tests in Blackboard: Best Practices




Giving your assessments via Blackboard can be convenient and time-saving, both for yourself and your students. When it comes to tests and quizzes (or any assessment given using the Tests course tool), there are a few things you should know before deciding whether or not to undertake this project. In this article, first we’ll cover some frequently asked questions about the Tests course tool itself, then we’ll recommend some best practices for instructors wishing to use it in their courses. Just want to get a how-to on creating a test in Blackboard? See our Tests in Blackboard article.

Instructional Continuity Note: While students can take Blackboard tests using the Blackboard Student mobile app, not all test features are supported. Please see this link for more information about what can and cannot be used in a test that you expect students to take using the mobile app.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Why give tests and quizzes using Blackboard?

    The most time-saving feature of using the Tests course tool is that all objective questions are scored automatically. When you set up your test, you tell the system what the correct answers are, how many points to assign (partial credit and negative points can be applied at your discretion), and what feedback, if any, you want to give your students for each question. The Tests tool also features the ability to randomize questions, create random blocks of questions using a test item pool, and to reuse questions from previous tests, or other courses.

  • If my students can take their test from anywhere they want, won’t they cheat?

    This is the biggest point of hesitance that many instructors have, with good reason. Giving tests via Blackboard is often best suited for low-stakes formative assessments, homeworks, take-home tests, and tests where the nature of the questions makes cheating much less likely, if not impossible. There is no ability within Blackboard to “lock down” the student’s computer or browser to prevent them from going to other web pages. There are, however, steps you can take to make cheating either more difficult or more inconvenient for your students. These will be covered below in Best Practices.

  • How can I turn my paper-and-pencil test into a Blackboard test?

    Unfortunately, you can’t just load your Word document into Blackboard and call it a day. You may see an “Import” button inside the Blackboard Test tool, but the ability to import is limited to files formatted as Blackboard tests (or pools). However, there are tools available to help you turn a text file into something that Blackboard can parse and turn into a functioning Blackboard test. Please see our article Creating Tests in Blackboard Using Word or Text Documents for more information on these tools and their use.

  • Is this all going to be a big hassle?

    That depends. We highly recommend investigating the tools discussed above for turning a text file into a Blackboard test. For many question types, it’s probably not as difficult as you’re imagining. If you are considering creating a test in Blackboard from scratch, it will take longer than typing it into a word processor, so consider whether the various advantages of using Blackboard outweigh the time it will take you to create these resources.

  • What if I have technical problems?

    When it comes to creating your tests, LMS Support and Consulting is available to consult with you via email, phone, or in person, during normal University business hours. We can help get you started with using the tool and discuss any concerns or questions you may have. When it comes to your students and taking the test, this is another area where instructors should consider whether the advantages of using the Blackboard Test tool outweigh the possibility that there might be a student who has a technical problem. We’ll cover this eventuality in more detail under Best Practices.

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Best Practices

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  • Don’t assume your students are technically savvy

    It is a common assumption that today’s college students are “digital natives,” adept at using computers under a variety of circumstances. In reality, young adults may use computers in a different way than we used them 10 or 20 years ago, but they are not any more savvy about what to do when something goes wrong than anyone else. Any time you use technology in your teaching, it’s important to guide your students in its use.

  • Give your students explicit instructions for how to prevent errors and what to do if something goes wrong

    The most common problems encountered by students taking tests stem from using an unsupported web browser (Chrome and Firefox are the most stable browsers with Blackboard support), or taking the test on a wireless internet connection (wifi or mobile). For this reason, you should tell your students to take the test on a wired internet connection, and to use either Firefox or Chrome web browsers. You should also explicitly tell your students what to do if an error occurs–who they should contact first (we recommend the CSSD Help Desk), how and when they should contact you, and what information they should give you.We recommend putting the following information (or something similar) into your test’s Instructions field:
    “It is highly recommended that you take this test using Firefox or Chrome, on a wired internet connection. If you experience an error or unexpected behavior while taking this test, please contact the CSSD Help Desk at 412-624-HELP. If a technology problem prevents you from taking or completing this test, please contact your instructor as soon as possible and provide information about exactly when the error occurred, where you were located, what web browser you were using and what happened.” Some instructors also tell their students to take a screen-shot (or even a picture of the screen using their mobile phone camera) if there’s an error, and sending that as an email attachment to the instructor with the report of the error.

  • Think about how you will handle any problems that might arise

    Many instructors are caught off guard by technical problems arising from giving a test in Blackboard. These errors are not common, but they do crop up and are often due to student error (see above) or a problem originating with Blackboard’s servers. Most often, what you’ll see is that a student has made a test attempt, but either there are no answers recorded, or only part of the test is complete. There are any number of reasons for this—and we’re happy to consult with you about individual cases—but generally these are due to honest mistakes. When such cases arise, we recommend taking the following steps:

    • Check the test access log: Each test attempt includes some more detailed information about when and how the test was taken. Sometimes this information makes it clear what went wrong, but sometimes it doesn’t.
      Click to expand the Test Information pane and click Access Log button
    • Clear the test attempt: If you have your test set up to accept only a single attempt, a student who needs to re-take a test due to an error will not be able to. You may clear the attempt, which will delete it and allow the student to take the test again.
      Click to expand the Test Information pan and click Clear Attempt button
    • Use test availability exceptions: Every test given in Blackboard has the ability to be slightly tailored to individual students (this is also important for students with disability accommodations). A student who experienced an error while taking the test may need to have exceptions applied to her so that she can re-take it after the availability window has closed or to allow her multiple test attempts rather than a single attempt.
      Click Add User or Group button under Test Availabilty Exceptions
  • Understand Test Option Settings to minimize both technical problems and cheating

    The Test Option Settings are what you set when you deploy the test (put it some place in your course that is accessible to students). They dictate how students take the test, during what timeframe, and with what test-taking parameters. You can always edit these settings even after you deploy a test, by opening the context menu for the test and selecting Edit the Test Options.

    There are a few test option settings you should know more about when deciding how you want to deploy your test for best results.

    • Force Completion: This is the root cause of a large number of test errors. Force completion means that students must take the test in a single browser session–if they close the window or the tab, they cannot re-enter the test. This sounds like a good way to prevent cheating, but it’s also a good way to introduce errors–both user errors and connectivity errors. There are other ways to minimize cheating that don’t introduce instability into the process.
    • Timer: Using the timer and setting it to a fairly strict estimate of how long students should need to take the test can be used to deter cheating, because looking up the answers takes extra time. Choose either “Auto-Submit ON” so that students cannot continue the test after the time is up,  or “Auto-Submit OFF” which will allow students to continue the test, but will flag their test attempt for you so that you know they went overtime.
    • Password: Some instructors choose to proctor their own Blackboard tests by giving them in class (students are required to bring their own laptop, which may not be appropriate in all courses, so use your judgement) and password-protecting the test. At the beginning of the class, the instructor writes the password on the board, ensuring that no one who isn’t in the room can take the test.
    • Randomize Questions: All students will receive the same set of questions, but in random order. Paired with a one-question-at-a-time presentation, this reduces the ability of students to do the test together.
  • Using Test Item Pools

    In addition to the Test tool, Blackboard also supports the creation of Test Item Pools. Loading questions into Pools greatly enhances your ability to prevent cheating by giving you the ability to create tests composed entirely of randomly-selected questions from a larger Pool. If you have a Pool of 50 questions, you can set up a test that draws 10 different questions entirely at random from the Pool, for every student. You can have multiple Pools, and draw from multiple Pools in a single test, so you may wish to categorize your questions into Pools, then draw a set number of random questions from each. This ensures that all students receive an equal number of questions from each category, but the exact set of questions each student receives will be unique. Pools can be exported and shared with colleagues, or copied to other courses. We recommend their use, particularly as a long-term project to continually collect and curate a set of high quality test items that can be deployed easily on tests.


Still have questions? LMS Support and Consulting is here to help you. Contact us via email, phone, web form, or in person. We’re available Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM.

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