How Do Online Exams Work?

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In any class, from elementary school all the way through post-graduate work, exams are an important part of the curriculum. When it comes to taking online courses, though, administering exams can be tricky.

In traditional, in-person courses, instructors can administer exams in a controlled environment to ensure the integrity of the results. When students are located all over the world in an online class, ensuring that integrity can become more difficult.

How do online exams work? In the past, many online programs have conducted open-book exams with the understanding that students would use all the resources available to them. Educational researchers have found, though, that open-book exams aren’t necessarily beneficial to students.

With that in mind, instructors at a growing number of schools, including here at Columbia Southern University, ensure the integrity of their online exams by using exam proctoring services.

What is an Exam Proctor?

Exam proctors ensure that students don’t use unapproved resources or fail to comply with other standards, such as talking with others. Before any exam, students typically must get approval from their university to use a specific proctor, and proctors must be credentialed.

One option is to take a course with an independent proctor, typically at a local testing center. In some cases, you may be able to take the exam at a local community college or other location with the supervision of a proctor. The proctor will examine your identification, supervise the test and submit certification that you adhered to the standards of academic integrity.

Another option is to take the test using an online service like Remote Proctor Now, which is an online, third-party proctoring service that monitors test-takers via webcam. There is typically a per-exam fee for this kind of service, and you will need to have access to a computer with a webcam, audio and high-speed internet, as well as the ability to download and install the necessary software. When using an online proctor, you’ll need to show your identification and set up your workspace so that the proctor can see you and anything going on around you.

In-Person vs. Online Proctors

Both in-person and online proctoring options have their pros and cons, and fees for these services can vary according to location and how long the test will take. Here are some of the common advantages and disadvantages for these options.

In-Person Proctor Pros and Cons


  • By taking the test in a neutral location, you are likely to have fewer distractions.
  • The chances of a red flag showing up on your testing report are limited.


  • You are responsible for finding a suitable proctor and testing space. 
  • You are also responsible for setting up a specific time to take your exam.

Online Proctor Pros and Cons


  • You can take the test at any time and on your own computer, provided it meets the necessary requirements.
  • Taking the test from the privacy of your own home can help you feel more comfortable and reduce test anxiety.
  • You don’t have to spend time and money trying to find an appropriate proctor or testing location.


  • Minor disturbances — a pet or child walking through the room or background noise — can cause your exam to be flagged, leading to scoring delays or other issues.
  • You may have to do some rearranging of your workspace to meet the requirements, and the recording of your test session will show your home.


As online learning continues to grow in higher education, online exam proctoring is going to continue to become more advanced and widely used. Many students are discovering that online proctoring is an attractive option when they need to take an exam for an online class.

CSU is proud to be on the leading edge of this trend, ensuring that not only is the academic integrity of the coursework maintained, but that students are getting as much as they can from their classes.

For more information about CSU’s online degree programs, visit

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