Online tests

An online test is an on-screen test that students take from their own devices or in a PC lab in the case of an online exam. Students need to be connected to the internet to be able to open, take and submit the assessment. This assessment itself could be diagnostic, formative, or summative and the test can be developed using a variety of question types including; multiple-choice (and variants) interactive questions (drag and drop or hotspot) or gap fills (numeric or text). To find out more about the different question types and try them out visit the generic Example questions from Bristol page. 


The advantages of online assessment can include:

  • Automatic marking and immediate feedback, tailored to help students improve their knowledge and performance
  • Access for students in different geographical locations and at different times
  • Sophisticated reporting, allowing you to refine the exercise or identify areas in which more instruction is needed
  • Cover of a wide range of topics 
  • Flexibility and accessibility options to meet students' requirements 


Saving staff time can be a driver for implementing online assessment. Online assessment can provide efficiency gains once the assessment is established, but it requires an investment of time up front to establish the materials and processes. Arrangements have to be put in place to ensure that the assessment is secure, reliable and valid, especially for credit-bearing assessments or if students are not monitored when they complete the assessment.

‌Getting started

‌The assessment lifecycle provides useful guidance on the implementation of online assessment. The main steps include;

  • Planning the assessment
  • Developing content
  • Preparing to deliver 
  • Delivering the assessment
  • Managing the results
  • Reviewing and evaluating, which feeds back into the next round of planning

Thinking about these stages helps to plan staff input.‌ Also see Running assessments online for good practice and guidance.

Available support

Below is a list of typical tasks required when planning and implementing online assessment, including exams. This gives you an idea of what it is involved, roles and responsibilities, and support provided by the Digital Education Office:

Digital Education Office support.  DEO will:

  • Provide advice on online assessment including; effective practice based on similar case studies, an appropriate system to use, question design, assessment settings, and University regulations
  • Prepare and deliver training for staff
  • Manage access to the system if required, eg create accounts, create groups, ensure appropriate access
  • Provide generic support materials, which can be adapted by the School if required
  • Respond to ongoing queries from staff via the DEO helpdesk
  • Assist with evaluation and provide consultation on possible improvements
  • Help with the development of an initial assessment (approx 50 questions)  

School responsibilities: Schools will:

  • Identify academic and administrative lead(s)
  • Provide first-line support to students undertaking online assessments in the event of any difficulties
  • Communicate with staff, students, and support staff regarding the assessment
  • Write questions, enter questions into the system, and create all assessments
  • Liaise with external examiners, including providing them with access to the system if needed
  • Check the questions and assessments once they are on the system and make any changes needed
  • Import students into the system (if required) and schedule assessments
  • Manage exam logistics: book computer labs, liaise with local IT support, ensure access to the building, arrange invigilation, prepare an exam pack for students, prepare a contingency plan (including a paper version of the assessment if required), identify and make arrangements for students with special requirements
  • Run the exam: assist students, manage invigilation, implement any contingency plans, manually-mark any open-ended questions
  • Export results as needed and generate any other reports
  • Collect any staff or student feedback, as appropriate

To find out more about the process, see Planning online tests.

Available technology

There are two centrally supported systems. Staff getting started with online assessment are advised to look at Blackboard tests in the first instance (see Planning online tests for more details)

  1. Blackboard tests  For more information go to Blackboard tests - Instructor help or view Introduction to Blackboard tests (YouTube, 2mins). Blackboard tests can be set up by any users with the appropriate permissions in the relevant Blackboard course.

  2. Questionmark is a separate dedicated system for online assessment, often used for online exams.  Before considering using Questionmark you should first check whether Blackboard will meet your needs, as Questionmark is more complex, typically requires more administration, and a higher level of staff training.  If you think you may need to use Questionmark please contact the DEO.

Further resources

Our case studies page has a number of examples of the use of online assessment for diagnostic, formative and summative purposes.