Take Home Exams: Tell It Like It Is

Take-home exams can be a very effective tool for assessing students’ learning, but also present some challenges in ensuring equity for those taking them. The format gives students more time and flexibility to complete an advanced or complex assignment, perhaps with more resources, than they would have in a seated final exam. But vague parameters may lead to confusion for students – how much time may they take, what resources may they use, how –if at all– may they consult other students? 

Many sources suggest that take-home exams work best with open-ended questions, and in more advanced courses, where students are invested in the material and can use the liberal format to integrate their learning more fully. Regardless of the content, the key to having students do work with integrity is clarifying the parameters; leave no room for doubt about what is permitted and what is not. 

If you decide to give a take-home exam, consider having a discussion in advance of the exam around academic integrity with respect to this kind of open-ended assignment. Ask your students to articulate why it is important to do their own work, or what is the broader value of scholarly integrity, or how this assignment might be challenging in this respect? Have students sign an affirmation statement when they collect the exam from you, or when they turn it in. You can find more information about affirmations, including sample text, here

Then BE EXPLICIT in telling them the following:

  • Tell students explicitly what kind of collaboration is permitted and what is not (use examples). 
  • Tell students what sources they may and may not consult during the exam.
  • Tell students how to cite those sources.
  • Finally, tell students all of this IN WRITING on your syllabus and website. The Canvas course website platform offers a section on collaboration policies, in which you can choose from existing templates or write your own policy. See also some creative ways of addressing academic integrity with respect to take-home exams here.