Taking Exams in Online Programs: How It Works

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 is a bit tricky. Unlike in a traditional “on the ground” course where instructors can administer exams in a controlled environment to ensure the integrity of the results, when students are located all over the world, that becomes difficult, if not impossible.

In the past, many online programs have gotten around this issue by simply not including exams in the syllabus, replacing them with a large project or other assignment, or conducting “open book” exams with the understanding that students would be using all available resources to complete the exam.

Educational researchers have found, though, that these methods aren’t necessarily beneficial to students. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, several studies have found that students are less likely to fully understand or retain information when they aren’t required to complete a comprehensive, closed-book exam on the material. What’s even more concerning is that while unit or chapter exams are designed to gauge learning throughout the semester, many students simply see these tests as another thing to check off their to-do lists and a means to discover new ways to cheat.

With that in mind, instructors at a growing number of schools, including Columbia Southern University, have started including exams in their online courses and ensuring their integrity by using online exam proctoring services.

What Is an Online Proctor?

CSU, like many schools, offers several flexible options for online students who are taking exams. In either case, students must work with an approved, credentialed individual who will supervise the taking of the exam to ensure that the student doesn’t use any unapproved resources or fail to comply with other standards, such as talking with others. Before any exam, the student must get approval from the university to use a specific proctor.

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.

The other option for CSU students is to take the test using the service Remote Proctor Now, an online, third-party proctoring service that monitors test-takers via webcam. There is a per-exam fee for this service (currently $19 per exam) 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 you use this option, you’ll be instructed to show your identification to the online proctor and set up your workspace so that the proctor can see you and anything going on around you.

The Pros and Cons of Your Options

Both the in-person and online proctoring options have their pros and cons. In the case of in-person proctoring, you are responsible for finding a suitable proctor and testing space and for setting up a specific time to take your exam. Fees for these services can vary according to location and how long the test will take. However, by taking the test in a neutral location, you are likely to have fewer distractions, and the chance of a red flag showing up on your testing report are limited. In some cases, minor disturbances — a pet or child walking through the room or background noise — can cause your exam to be flagged. This can lead to scoring delays or other problems.

With on-demand online exam proctoring, 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, and you don’t have to spend time and money trying to find an appropriate proctor or testing location. 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, but most students find that remote proctoring is an attractive option when they need to take an exam for an online class.

As online learning continues to grow and becomes the “new normal” in terms of higher education, online exam proctoring is going to continue to grow and become more advanced. 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. Learn more about our commitment to student success and the services we offer.