Exams for online students are – as you might guess – administered online, usually at the end of particular sections of material. The way the class is structured will be up to the professor, but there will generally be smaller exams throughout the course, possibly a mid-term, and then one final exam at the end of the course. Exams will aim to test a student’s comprehension of the material covered and can take any format that best assesses that knowledge.
Aside from broad similarities, everything about how tests are actually administered in online courses differs from the way they’re handled in traditional classes. Students take the tests on their own computers in a location of their choosing. Because of the nature of distance learning, professors have no way to oversee the students while they take tests. For this reason, tests are typically open-book and open-note.
To make sure students don’t take inappropriate advantage of these aspects of test-taking, the tests are typically structured to make it very difficult for a student to simply copy another student’s answers. For example, many professors ask short-answer questions that require both in-depth knowledge of facts and dates as well as overall comprehension of the section as a whole. These types of tests are also usually timed, making it difficult for students to adequately answer the question if they are underprepared. Tests are also often timed when multiple-choice and true-false formats are used. Usually, these types of questions appear on tests that are not weighted as heavily as a mid-term or final.
For more writing-intensive tests, students can download test questions into a program on their personal computers, save their completed answers, and then upload them to be sent back to their professors. It is also possible for some exams to be proctored, meaning that online students have to go to a testing location, such as a local community college, to take the test in a supervised environment. In these instances, the examinations may not be open book or open note.