COVID-19 Crisis: Transitioning from traditional invigilated exams to ‘take-home’ exam papers

Sunday, April 05, 2020

COVID-19 is having a major impact on higher education. After an initial response focused on supporting students’ wellbeing and shifting teaching online, many educators are now turning their attention to assessment. Perhaps the most challenging assessment to transition into a digital format is the traditional, invigilated exam. 

One solution is to substitute the traditional exam with a take-home exam paper. Take-home exams are assessments closely related to traditional exams, but with an important difference in that the question paper is released to students at a scheduled time, and students choose when to work on it before they submit their answers after a fixed period of time – often 24 hours. 

Working without supervision or invigilation means that students can consult course materials, textbooks, their notes, and the Internet as they answer. Maintaining rigour, reliability and validity therefore means that we cannot simply take our prepared exam papers, designed to be sat under invigilated exam conditions, and release them online. We need to rethink the type of questions we ask, and the way we present them to students.

At the University of Sheffield, Dr Beverley Gibbs and I have prepared a short paper with our Faculty of Engineering colleagues, in which we have shared some considerations and suggestions for colleagues on how to adapt a planned formal exam into a take-home paper. We share below a version of this work, for the benefit of the wider community. Although our context is engineering, this guidance has wide applicability, and we hope it will be of use to educators across all disciplines where traditional invigilated exams are used.

Please feel free to download, adapt and use this paper in your own contexts. In return, please tell us in the comments below if you find this useful or have questions, and do share your own ideas and suggestions with us.


Wood, G.C. & Gibbs, B. (2020). COVID-19 Crisis: Transitioning from traditional invigilated exams to ‘take-home’ exam papers. Sheffield: University of Sheffield.

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