Teaching & Learning


Initiatives and resources supporting the objectives of UCL's Education Strategy 2016-21


Getting started with alternative assessments

Guidance on getting started with preparing alternative assessments as UCL cancels all in-person assessments in response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Alternative assessments should aim to assess the same content as the usual exam in terms of learning outcomes but will need to vary to recognise that face to face exam conditions are not possible at this time. They should avoid questions that rely on recall or standard ‘book work’ as far as possible.

Some key recommendations for adapting your assessments: 

  1. Communicate and explain any changes to assessment to students and provide details of any expectations about equipment they should have access to.
  2. Keep it simple: stick to low-tech and text-based systems.  The more complex you make the assessment, the more opportunities there are for something to fail.

    Basic strategies

    Exclude the assessment when it is safe to do so and maintain academic standards

    • Review what assessment has already taken place. Can students achieve a mark by averaging grades for work already submitted, rather than requiring all of the outstanding pieces to be completed (seek guidance from relevant professional bodies if there are requirements for all learning outcomes to be demonstrably met)?
    • If the assessment is low-stakes and unlikely to affect student outcomes in the longer term, exclude it.
    • It may be possible to reduce the number of assessments by eliminating a number of small assessments and consolidating them into one piece that assesses the module as a whole.

    Remember to assess only what has been taught

    If it is difficult to reschedule teaching for the remainder of the teaching period with activities that are not possible to move online, it may be possible to adjust the assessment so that you assess students only on material that has been delivered to date. Where professional bodies are involved, they will provide guidance on the measures they require. 

    Offer alternative assessment formats

    The section below provides some alternatives to consider, together with some important considerations.  What are suggested here are some reasonable adjustments to be used in the current extraordinary circumstances, which will not necessarily replicate the original assessments, but may offer students some manageable alternatives in challenging times.

    Open book exams may be useful in some instances but use these only where you have determined that you cannot either exclude the assessment or find an alternative form of assessment

    Options for alternative assessments

    Expand a section below to see alternative options you could use for each type of assessment, and how you can assure you maintain standards as you make these changes. 

    Time-constrained unseen exams (in invigilated exam rooms or in-class tests)

    You could instead consider using:

    We do not recommend converting a typical invigilated exam into a timed online, open book, exam. In the current context we are reliant on a single online platform (Moodle) and time-constrained exams add significant pressure to the system.

    Online exams involve questions being released to students at an advertised time, with responses submitted by students within a fixed period.

    Education Committee has stipulated that any online exams this year must be of 24 hours duration – no shorter timed exams will be permitted. All such, online exams should be considered as “open book”, meaning that students will be allowed access to notes and online resources while they take the exam.

    Online open book exams should only be selected where all other possible alternative assessment methods have been considered and judged unsuitable. Requests for online exams will be subject to approval. Only where absolutely necessary and approved by the Faculty Tutor, can online exams be delivered.

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    As with normal take-away papers, because students have access to materials, the design of questions may need to be reframed to move away from recall-based tasks to questions that require students to demonstrate how they use information rather than reiterate what they have learned. It will be important, therefore, to provide guidance for students about the change in orientation of the task. It is also good practice to re-run any changes to question formats through the usual moderation processes.

    Under normal time-bounded exam conditions, there is no need to specify word count. With open book, it is very important to set an indicative word or page length.

    Open book assessments carry an increased risk of unauthorised collaboration (collusion) between students. Carefully designed exam questions can also reduce the risk of plagiarism. For example, tasks or questions should not have only one correct answer. Instead use questions that invite students to catalogue, critique, plan, defend, reflect on their own learning, justify or rank rather than to explain or describe. Assignments can be submitted to the Turnitin text-comparison system to help identify plagiarism. 

    In-class presentations

    Where students speak to an audience of their peers/others and are assessed not only on the content but also their presentation techniques.

    You could instead consider using:

    Ask students (individually or in groups) to submit a narrated presentation in electronic form which can then be tutor-marked and peer-reviewed.

    PowerPoint is familiar to most students, and offers a slide-by-slide voice-narration recording facility.

    Ask students to prepare a podcast or short video on the topic to be submitted electronically.

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    You will need to take account of the fact that, given the recorded presentation format, students can have multiple opportunities to prepare the item they are submitting, rather than having to cope with the one-off nature of a live presentation. If students are presenting in groups, due consideration must be given to international students who have returned home and are working across different time zones.

    Portfolio, logbook or assessment notebook

    You could instead consider using:

    Where possible move hard-copy portfolios online, for example in Moodle.

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    Where these have been partially completed already, assessors will have to use professional judgment to decide whether there is sufficient evidence of Learning Objectives having been achieved already by the time of university closure. 

    Viva Voce exams

    This includes PhD examinations in person, or other forms of oral assessment (e.g. in language learning).

    You could instead consider using:

    These could readily be undertaken by Teams, Blackboard Collaborate or other electronic remote means. 

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    Students may need support in developing confidence to work virtually where they have little prior experience.

    Whilst you might prefer using other tools for videoconferencing, do note that UCL provides and supports Teams and Blackboard Collaborate and it will be important to ensure that any formal examinations online are recorded for quality assurance reasons.

    Seminars, group discussions and similar activities

    You could instead consider using:

    These could be held in Blackboard Collaborate

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    Staff as well as students may need to be supported to learn how to use this approach if it isn’t currently part of their normal learning experiences.

    Lab work

    You could instead consider using:

    It may be possible to replicate some aspects of lab work through simulations in which students are presented with data sets and required to interpret them. Often this means focusing on interpretation of data rather than working in the lab to achieve the results personally.

    Simulations can also be used remotely so students can ‘see’ data produced elsewhere and be asked to comment/interpret.

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    If students can be provided with different data sets for personal interpretation, this can mitigate the risk of ‘over-sharing’.


    You could instead consider using:

    You can potentially use a digital infographic, mind map or other visuals which can be submitted as coursework in Moodle, for example, or posted in shared spaces, for example Padlet, particularly if peer review is required. Many tools support narration.   

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    To confirm authenticity of the submitter, you may wish to supplement this with a short online oral. Any  instructions need to be consistent to ensure fairness. 


    Peer assessments and support

    You could instead consider using:

    Peers can email each other drafts for comments or use a virtual space within Moodle.  Moodle does have a workshop tool for peer assessment and forums can readily be used for peer support.

    Outward-facing assessment

    You could instead consider using:

    Where students are asked to produce a piece of work that addresses a particular audience, consider using Blogs, particularly UCL Reflect where students can upload a mix of text, image and video content.

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    There is some time investment for you and your students in gaining confidence with using WordPress blogs.

    Face-to-face feedback

    You could instead consider using:

    Individual and generic group feedback can be delivered by tutors via audio or online means.

    OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations) and tests requiring students to demonstrate a range of skills

    You could instead consider using:

    It may be possible for students to submit digital portfolios containing, for example, videos of themselves performing a range of practical tasks.

    To assure standards you might need to consider: 

    It will be essential to follow professional body advice and guidance when considering redesigning OSCEs.

    General considerations

    We are confident that it is possible to produce alternative assessments that are equal to and may even be improvements on the current assessment. It is also important to remember that both staff and students may be working outside their comfort zones, and that support should be provided for those struggling with new approaches.

    As with all forms of assessment, account will need to be taken of reasonable adjustments for all students with temporary or long-term health conditions, disabilities and additional needs.

    Please bear in mind the need to clearly communicate expectations and where possible provide accompanying marking criteria and examples.

    Further resources and discussion 

    We have collated many rapidly emerging resources onto Moving learning teaching and assessment online – Moodle users groupYou are not expected to work through them but do check if you are looking for further ideas. 

    There are also discussion forums there for you to share ideas or resources of your own or that you have found useful.  Please do be generous with your ideas; if you have adapted an assessment that you think works well, do share the ideas with others who may be struggling to think of alternative approaches. 

    The forums will be moderated by Arena and Digital Education staff, but you may find peer support equally helpful.


    Acknowledgement. This advice is adapted from the document by Sally Brown and Kay Sambell - Contingency planning: exploring rapid alternatives to face-to-face assessment.