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Teaching Essentials

Should I use LEARN restrictions to encourage academic integrity?

Should I use LEARN restrictions to encourage academic integrity?

Usually, the motivation to create tight restrictions is a concern about academic integrity. However, these restrictions may increase anxiety for students, and the more anxiety they have, the more requests for accommodations/modifications instructors will likely receive. Unreasonable restrictions may be a barrier to accessible education and may cause students to act out of confusion and frustration, pushing them towards misconduct.

There are other ways of addressing this concern, that don’t involve adding restrictions:

  • Write questions that are not so easily Googled (e.g., not fact questions, but questions that are applied to a scenario or integrate multiple concepts, as these are more difficult to simply look up on the spot).
  • Keep online tests low-stakes (worth lower marks). Can you alter the grading scheme to provide a less stressful online final exam experience and at the same time keep the rigor and integrity of your course assessment?
  • Consider breaking up a large exam into multiple smaller exams written during the term. 
  • Require students to agree to specific statements about their actions during and after the test, prior to starting the test. Make sure you have described your expectations in advance and notified students that they will be asked to agree to the statements. You can modify your statements to reflect your expectations (e.g., Using the textbook is allowed but talking to others is not). An example is below.  
    • By starting this exam, I am confirming that:
      • I will keep the content of this exam confidential.
      • I will not use any unauthorized assistance in writing this exam.
      • I will not access or use any unauthorized online or offline resources. 

Adapted from: Making the Transition to Online Exams. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo

Should I restrict student movement in online tests?

In the early days of remote learning due to COVID-19, many recommendations included restricting movement through an exam, to make it harder for students to jump between questions and share answers. The result of this recommendation has added additional exam stress to students, attempting to use good exam-taking strategies.

If possible, allow students to move backwards through pages of questions.

  • Preventing backward movement could induce additional exam stress: whenever possible, students should be allowed to go back and double-check their work as well as skip a question they are unsure of, and return to it later in the test.  

If you feel you must prevent backward movement, you should provide:

  • very clear instructions both before the test and on the first page;
  • an estimated amount of time to spend on each question; and  
  • an overview of the number and type of question formats included in the test.  

Good practice is to move from less to more difficult questions, and let students practice with the format in a low- to no-stakes quiz.

Adapted from: Making the Transition to Online Exams. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo

Should I reduce the test time alloted?

Not necessarily. Students need a reasonable amount of time to complete a test on their own. Keep the length of time for interacting with the test as short as is reasonable, and remember to consider the increased cognitive and psychological load on students.

  • 1-2 minutes per question is a recommended minimum for multiple-choice and true/false questions, depending on how long/complex the questions are (e.g., if students are retrieving knowledge about multiple concepts or are asked to think critically or analytically, add time for that).
  • For long-answer questions, you’ll need to provide sufficient time for students to write and review their answers.
  • To judge how much time to allocate, time yourself reading the longest question twice, including all the answer options, and then double or triple the time. Also, keep in mind that you have “expert thinking” in the subject matter, while your students have “novice thinking” or “developing thinking” in the subject matter, so perhaps a bit of an extra time cushion is warranted, particularly in stressful conditions.
  • Remember, some may have difficulties reading and writing under pressure, and especially in English.

Adapted from: Making the Transition to Online Exams. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo

What are other LEARN strategies?

If questions are roughly the same level of difficulty:
Shuffle questions at the quiz level  

  • If you check this box, each student will get the whole set of questions in your quiz, but in a different order.
  • You may want to set up sections in the question layout to group the questions. This may be less confusing for students. If you use sections, the order of the sections will be shuffled, but the questions within each section will NOT be shuffled.

Alternatively, to ensure that questions progress from less to more difficult:
Don’t shuffle questions at the quiz level

  • Set up sections based on level of difficulty (1 section for easy, 1 for medium, 1 for hard, etc …)
  • You can set questions to be randomly chosen from each section.
  • Question sections will be presented in order but questions from each section will be randomly presented to students.

Create Question Banks 

  • Create large banks of questions for online exams and have each student get a random sample of these questions (e.g., 50 questions from a bank of 75 questions).

Keep the time frame for having access to the test reasonable, but short. Create an environment where students can succeed, rather than imposing restrictions that focus on worst-case scenarios.

LEARN Quiz Tool Resources

Contact LEARN Support ( before making tests available, if you would like your quiz settings reviewed. 

What are authentic restrictions?

Even with traditional test styles in remote delivery, you can choose authentic restrictions that reflect the expectations of the work environment, keeping in mind the level (novice or advanced) of your students.

Authentic restrictions are often easier to monitor and enforce, plus they provide a better learning experience. Inauthentic restrictions can cause more stress and don’t necessarily help you evaluate learning.
(Phillip Dawson,;

  • For example, in the workplace, do students need to have a list of definitions that they can repeat from memory? Or do they need to be able to apply the concepts to situations that occur? Is it possible to allow students access to the definitions and ask them questions that require application of the definition?
  • As another example, will professionals in your field have access to a manual in the workplace? Is it necessary that they repeat content from the manual from memory, or is it more important to be able to use the manual to quickly find information? Is it possible to allow students access to the manual during the test?

Further Reading: Dawson, P. (2021). Defending Assessment Security in a Digital World. London: Routledge,