Tests Best Practices and Troubleshooting

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Overview (Instructors!)

The Tests, Surveys and Pools tool is a very powerful and versatile tool with a lot of moving parts. There are a few points of failure that can occur along the way when utilizing this tool, and we will detail below some preventative measures to help you avoid potential problems, and troubleshoot a situation that has already occurred.

Student Best Practices

Please visit the Student Test-Taking Best Practices to review tips for students.

Faculty Best Practices

Student Considerations (COVID-19 Specific)

  • Students are being disrupted from their original course plan; therefore, they aren’t always prepared to do an online version of a test. E.g. completing the exam on a cellphone using data if no WiFi available.
  • If students are using a cell phone, there are only certain types of questions that will work - True/False, Multiple Choice, Either/Or, Short Answer, or Essay. Note True/False, Either/Or and Multiple Choice will have automatic grading, but Short Answer and Essay questions require instructor manual grading. If you use any other type of questions and the student is on a cell phone, they will be prompted to open in a desktop browser instead.
  • Give your students the opportunity to complete a short pre-test trial-run in your site to familiarize them with what to expect and make sure they know how to complete it. A pre-test will also give you an opportunity to check the settings you wish to use and ensure they are configured properly. You can test the pre-test out using the Student Preview Option
  • Avoid a tightly timed test as you will be inviting appeals e.g. one minute per question in a two-hour window and the student’s internet situation where they are writing is less than optimal such as dial-up or they are caring for sick family members, different time zones, etc.


COVID-19 Specific

  • Please consider the fact that students may have multiple exams/assessments occurring at the same time, if instructors are giving students extended period, e.g. complete within a 24-hour period. Overlap may occur.
  • Avoid creating large exams (50+ questions) involving many/complex questions and presented all at once. Consider breaking them into smaller exams taken in sequence instead. Large exams also create more server load when submitting the final exam; which can lead to failures due to application overload when groups of users submit at the same time.
  • If you are using a timer, consider giving more time than you would usually offer if students were on campus to account for different time zones, internet conditions, living situations, etc.
  • Make sure the column for the test in the Full Grade Centre has been set to be hidden from the students until you have all of the grades finalized for that test. This is especially important in the exam window if the test availability spans a larger time than the original final exam window

Normal Situation Settings

(Also applies to COVID-19 conditions above)

  • Ensure students can pick up where they left off if they get disconnected, therefore, AVOID USING THE FORCE COMPLETE option as we have had multiple problems with troubleshooting during or post-exam
  • Avoid the one at a time presentation as the system has to save after each question is loaded, especially important if a randomized display of questions has also been selected.
  • Give clear instructions to students such as:
    • Where to find the test in your site
    • to save their attempt every 10-15 minutes (if questions are presented all at once),
    • not to double-click any of the test buttons as issues will arise with the connection to the server,
    • how long the timer will be set for the exam
    • Use Chrome, or Firefox, but NOT IE Explorer!
    • Use only arrows within the exam window and not use the browser’s forward or back button
    • Scroll wheel on the mouse can change answers, so double check!
    • Don’t navigate away from browser as it may kick you out of the exam
    • Which attempt for multiple attempts will be counted
    • Don't "go away" for more than 20 minutes. Always make sure you touch the actual exam every 15 minutes or so just to keep the exam session alive.
    • Click the Submit button only ONCE when done.
    • More student tips
  • Include test exceptions (students requiring extra time, another date to write, or extra attempts) using the TEST AVAILABILITY EXCEPTIONS options. If providing exceptions, be sure to NOT use the Do not allow students to start the Test if the due date has passed. Students will be unable to start the Test if this option is selected if the exception is to offer the test on a date past the Due Date. Your student won't be able to access it.
  • Have students save their attempt every 10-15 minutes (if questions are presented all at once).
  • Avoid randomized display order for exams using the question-by-question display.
  • When using the random selection of questions from pools (Random Block Questions), keep the overall exam especially short.
  • Visit the College of DuPage's Blackboard Test Feedback Options web page to see what the various selections on Feedback options will show to students.
  • Consider using the Examity testing invigilation available from the Office of Open Learning for high-stakes exams. Fees for students apply and scheduling will need to be staggered for large classes.

Pre-Test Time

"Student Preview button"
Student Preview Button
* Make sure the test is set to be Available on the day of the exam
  • Consider making a pre-exam column in the Grade Centre to show students what grade they have achieved prior to the exam.
  • Instructors use your Student Preview to test out and replicate your exam settings in your Sandbox to anticipate problems. On exam day, once the test availability window opens, complete the test as a student so you will also know it is working properly.

Converting MS Word Tests to Blackboard

There are a few test generators with online software that may produce a useful version (though it doesn't always produce great results). There is online documentation to support their use as well. This video demonstrates how to use the first online software to import a test to Blackboard https://quondam.csi.edu/blackboard/bbquiz/ and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College(Does not work on Firefox)

  • Note: Use at your own discretion! These are not Blackboard supported tools.


  • To see what the student has answered, choose View Attempt (right-click the grey editing circle beside the student’s Full Grade Centre cell) to sort out problems. More on grading tests at the Blackboard help site.
  • You can edit test questions only before it has been deployed or remove a question after the tests have been submitted whereby, Blackboard will regrade every attempt for deleted questions.
  • For wrongly worded questions after the test has been completed, you can choose to make the question out of a zero score, thereby giving it as a bonus to students who got it right, and it won’t penalize those who got it wrong or choose to delete the question and having Blackboard regrade all attempts.
  • Instructors will have to decide what to do with test issues arising from the test, and student TeamDynamix tickets will be routed to the instructor to sort out. Use the Test Access log to see detailed interactions the student had with the test for that attempt to choose to respond to the student’s issue.
  • We highly suggest that instructors don't choose Clear Attempt to sort a mishandled test (found in the View Grade Details), but instead, choose to offer an exception (under TEST AVAILABILITY EXCEPTIONS) which will work as long as the test remains available and the Due Date hasn’t passed. Instructors can also choose to ignore an attempt.
  • Instructors can offer another make-up test by copying and setting up a new test and making it available to one or more students using the (Adaptive Release) options and then combining the two test results into a new column in the Grade Centre using a Calculated Column such as Max/Min, Total, etc.
  • Advise your TA/GA’s to avoid deleting attempts but to use other strategies outlined above


Need to troubleshoot? Select the Access Log

"example of a test access log of a student's test attempt"
Student Test access log - click to enlarge
"Test access log button'
Test Access Log - click to enlarge

Be aware that the time spent on a question may include the time that the student spent looking at other questions before saving that answer.

The Access Log shows a detailed list of all the interactions a student had with the test for that attempt. The log shows the time the test was started, when each question was saved, and when it was submitted.

You might interpret an unusual gap in activity as a connectivity problem if the student claims to have had one. However, the system can't determine what caused the time gap. The system can only show that the time gap occurred.

Test access log

Instructors and other users who are granted permission can view a test attempt's Access Log for a list of times of various student interactions with the test. The log can help to confirm whether a student began a test or ran into problems during a test.

  1. On the Control Panel, expand the Grade Center section and select Tests.
  2. Locate the cell for the student's test that you want to investigate.
  3. The cell must contain either a grade or the Needs Grading icon for an access log to be generated. If you submitted the test for the student, an access log isn't generated unless the student selected Save All Answers.
  4. Access the cell's menu and select Attempt.
  5. On the Grade Test page, expand the Test Information section.

What happens if the student's wi-fi disconnects?

First, the "autosave" will stop working, because their computer can't talk to the Blackboard server. If it stays there long enough, a popup should appear telling the students to check their network connection.

So, number one recommendation: IF STUDENTS SEE THE POP-UP TO CHECK THEIR NETWORK CONNECTION, DON'T IGNORE IT, AND DON'T JUST KEEP DOING THE TEST because NOTHING students do after that point will be saved.

  • If the student can fix the networking issue before the 20-minute timeout, then they can probably continue the test, unless they shut down their browser, or restarted their computer, or didn't get assigned a new IP address when they reconnected the network. The exam session should still be active if these activities didn't occur.
  • If a student has restarted the browser or their computer, they will lose their session cookies (which keep the browser session connected). Therefore, when they go back to Blackboard they will be asked to log in again.
  • If the student takes LONGER than the 20-minute timeout to fix the problem, even if they didn't restart their computer, they may find they get an "Access Denied" error message when they try to continue the test. That's because the overall Blackboard login is still working because it has a much larger timeout, but that specific test session will have timed out causing the access denied.

Force Complete and Timer Problems

  • In both these situations mentioned above (timeout happened or student had to restart the browser), the student fixes the network connection, logs back into Blackboard, and then goes back to complete the test. That will work, but ONLY if Force Complete is not turned on AND the test timer hasn't expired (automatically submitting the test). If Force Complete has been turned on, then it is impossible for a student to recover from this and continue the test.
  • If at all possible, avoid using the Force Complete option unless absolutely necessary.

Article adapted from Best Practices for Blackboard Exams, San Jacinto College - http://sjcblogs.sanjac.edu/its/best-practices-for-blackboard-exams/ and with permission from Kevin Lowey, University of Saskatchewan.

Submit a test for a student

If a student was unable to submit a test but completed the work, you can submit the attempt so you can grade it. Follow the steps below to do so:

  1. In the Grade Center, locate the cell that displays the In Progress icon.
  2. Access the cell's menu and select View Grade Details.
  3. On the Grade Details page, select View Attempt.
  4. Be sure the answers were saved.
  5. If multiple questions are marked with No Answer, you can clear the attempt. The student needs to take the test again.
  6. Select Test Information to expand the section.
  7. If you're satisfied with the student's test attempt, select Submit Attempt.
  8. Select OK to confirm the attempt submission.

Clear/Ignore a test attempt

If a student experiences a technical problem or needs an additional attempt, you can clear the test attempt, but it is not recommended. Instead, consider ignoring the attempt and offering another attempt through the TEST AVAILABILITY EXCEPTIONS as long as the test remains available.

Network and Time-outs

On-Campus tips

  • Conduct the tests in rooms with reliable network connections.
  • If you are administering the test on campus in a computer lab, ensure there is good connectivity available. Wifi can be particularly problematic if it is known to have connectivity issues in the area that you are expecting the students to complete the test. Check with IT if you are unsure about a classroom's track record.
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