Do You Really Need a Proctored Exam?: An Invitation to Rethink Assessment

By Dr. Diane Chapman, Executive Director, OFD

As NC State, like most other universities in the nation (and the world), has moved to remote learning, we have been forced to scrutinize the way that our courses are designed. This post makes the case that in any learning situation, but especially now, we should be designing and redesigning assessments that are authentic and move away from those that are not.

You may be asking yourself, what are authentic assessments? While there are variations of its definition, for the purposes of this post, assessment is authentic if it requires students to use the same competencies or combinations of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that they would use to apply the problem, issue or tasks in their real or professional life (Gulikers, Bastiaens, & Kirschner, 2004). When assessment is authentic, students can better transfer knowledge and skills from the classroom to the workplace because the assessment mirrors what they should do in the real world.

Unless the students will be working for a standardized testing company, multiple choice, short answer, true/false, fill-in-the-blank or essay examinations do not resemble what will be required of them in the workplace. Those types of tests require students to select an answer from a menu or recall information to complete the assessment, and may be standardized or instructor-created. For example, let’s say I am teaching you to fish. I can have you read a book on fishing, give you quizzes on fishing terminology, and I might even ask you to watch videos on fishing. Authentic assessment does not change the way that I would present the content; however, when it comes time to assess your learning authentically, I would want to see you fish. I would want to see how you perform the tasks involved in fishing. The action of fishing would tell me if you learned what you needed to learn to be successful in the real world. This type of assessment is almost impossible to accomplish through a multiple choice exam and would also not allow for space to truly assess if the knowledge (or skills) can be transferred. 

Steps Toward Authentic Assessment

  1. Review your course learning objectives. Make sure each of your objectives is essential to student success after your course. Remove any that are not. Reword any of your student learning outcomes to focus on what students should be able to do upon completion of your course. Make your learning objectives measurable. I mean phrase them in ways that reflect observable actions. Refrain from objectives that use verbs such as “understand,” “learn,” or “know.” For example, if your current objective is “the student will be able to understand the differences between bass and trout,” you might rephrase it to “the student will be able to distinguish between the characteristics of bass and trout.” Boston University has created short but targeted instructions on how to write effective course learning objectives.  
  2. Align your assessments with your course learning objectives. Once your learning objectives are focused on authentic outcomes and using measurable language, you can redesign your assessments to evaluate them. 
    1. For example, if your learning objective is “students will be able to describe the parts of a fishing reel” then you might have them draw their favorite fishing reel, label the parts, and submit it. If you are worried about cheating, by having students draw their favorite reel, no two submissions should be the same. You can also put parameters around the assignment that bring in students’ personal experience or ask them to submit photos they have taken. Allowing students some personalization in their assignments helps to curb cheating and makes it more visible if it does occur.

In almost all cases, there are ways of moving away from proctored examinations to authentic assessment; however, it takes creativity, a willingness to try new things, and openness to change. If you rely on multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, true/false or similar exams, especially if you require proctoring, I challenge you to ask yourself, ”is this the best way for students to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they will need in the workplace?” If not, it’s time to rethink your assessment, and the Office of Faculty Development and DELTA are here to help.



Gulikers, J.T.M., Bastiaens, T.J. & Kirschner, P.A. (2004). A five-dimensional framework for authentic assessment. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(3), 67-86.