Alternatives to Proctored Exams

Proctored Exams Are Not Always Appropriate

There has long been a debate about the efficacy of administering proctored exams. Some parties heavily favor the use of proctored exams, and others do not.  No matter your position, there are times when proctored exams are not an appropriate solution. This is particularly true during times of emergencies.  Not all students have access to internet, computers, or webcams, which make proctored exams impossible when teaching in a remote environment, such as the one created by the global COVID-19 pandemic.  Below are some possible alternatives to proctored exams.

Use a Current Exam in a Non-Proctored Environment

With a bit of modification, you can offer your current exams in a non-proctored environment and minimize cheating. Here are some suggestions from research and literature.

Studies have shown when students are required to regularly acknowledge they are not cheating, they are far less likely to be dishonest. In research where this has been studied, a question was included often within the content of the exam asking students if they understand the consequences of cheating. This question was worth zero points, but reminded students regularly of their obligation to not cheat. (Ex., “I understand that if I am caught cheating on this exam I will receive a zero as my grade, and my name may be submitted to the College Appeals Board.”)

Reduce the amount of time a student can complete the exam to a tighter timeframe (e.g., reduce from 60 minutes to 50 minutes). This solution will also reduce the amount of time a student could spend finding answers to your questions elsewhere.

Give students the chance to use relevant texts and resources during their exam. If your questions are primarily multiple-choice, we suggest adding a time limit to the assessment. This is a good opportunity to include a higher number of difficult questions on your exam.

 Instead of allowing students to have many days to complete an assessment, shorten the length of time they can access the test. By limiting the amount of time students can open the exam, you limit the opportunity for collusion between students.

  • Allow retakes – Take some of the pressure off of students by allowing retakes for full or partial credit.
  • Lessen the weight of the exam – This may also reduce students’ desire to cheat.
  • Allow students to complete the exam in alternative formats – Oral exams are another way to conduct an exam that was traditionally proctored
  • Switch to alternative assessments – Information on alternative assessments is below

Alternative Assessments

Alternative assessments fall into two main categories: Authentic and Performance-Based. Authentic assessments mirror activities students perform in their daily lives or at work. Performance-based assessments ask students to apply concepts and knowledge in order to complete problems. Rather than measuring what a student knows, alternative assessments measure what the student can do.

Alternative assessments:

  • Negate the need for proctored exams because students demonstrate their abilities and knowledge
  • Mirror the real-world activities or critical thinking students must use in their daily lives and at work
  • Are somewhat subjective and should be graded using a rubric or scoring guide
  • Are time and resource heavy – limit these assessments to the most important skills student use in your course

Alternative Assessment Strategies

There are many ways you can include alternative assessments in your course. Below are some commonly used assessment types that may work well in your course.

Written work allows students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of course content. It can also draw on students’ creativity and require analysis and evaluation. Examples might include:

  • Papers, essays
  • Letters, memos
  • Advertisements, brochures
  • Play scripts or dialogues
  • News articles, editorials
  • Critical article or book review
  • Abstracts, literature reviews
  • Posters, visual aids, infographics  

Collections of student work throughout the semester allow students to demonstrate their growth and improvement. Students use higher order thinking to critically analyze and narrate rationales for why each item included in the portfolio is a true representation of what they know.

Synchronous or asynchronous student presentations allow students to share learned content with peers and practice professional presentation and communication skills.

Task performances, like solving math problems, taking blood pressure, or correctly using protective personal equipment, can be recorded to demonstrate application of content knowledge.


Reflections allows student to connect what they have previously learned with new content and allows them ask questions to flush out new meanings found in the course content. Reflective writing reveals students’ thinking and learning processes.

Students demonstrate and apply knowledge when they are asked to take a position and defend that position with evidence from the course content. These can be conducted synchronously or asynchronously (e.g., in a discussion board).

Annotated bibliographies allow students to demonstrate higher order thinking and critical analysis as they connect the content of a written work with the course content or topic being explored.

Cognitive maps might include concept maps, outlines, or content summaries in which students demonstrate recall and content association. Cognitive maps provide a snapshot of how students have built their understanding of course content and connected it to previous knowledge. For example, students might create

  • a detailed outline of a research paper, identifying the thesis statement, main points, and references used to support each main point
  • bulleted summaries of assigned readings
  • a visual organizer containing their understanding of topics, a chapter or unit content

Justifying answers allows students to demonstrate content knowledge and critical thinking skills. This is also good way to discourage cheating that could happen on a test—the justifications will be original student work.

Assignments which task students to solve real-world problems or to develop a project-based solution for a real audience allows students to demonstrate higher order thinking using critical analysis and creative problem-solving skills.

Case studies provide students with a challenge or situation that mirrors a real-world problem. Ask them to analyze it or come up with a solution. These are excellent to use in almost all classes.

Critical self- and peer-evaluations allow students to practice performance assessment and critical feedback delivery they might experience throughout their careers. Students use higher order thinking to develop recommendations for improvement and for making appropriate revisions to their work based upon critical recommendations.

Ask students to draw, explain, or defend a concept or idea taught in your class.

Guidelines for Constructing Alternative Assessments*

For more information on developing alternative assessments for your course, review content created by the Center for Teaching and Learning at Brigham Young University.

*Used with permission by the Center for Teaching and Learning at Brigham Young University.