Academic Services

Online Remote Examinations and Assessment

Outputs from the task group including guidance for online assessment and full task group report.

The OREA (Online Remote Examinations and Assessment) working group was set up in Summer 2020 to make recommendations in the light of the ‘hybrid approach’ and our move to almost entirely online assessment in the University. This approach will continue for the entirety of the academic year, and possibly longer.

We reported in September 2020, and recommendations were considered by the ART-Student-Curriculum group, by Senate Education Committee (SEC), and minor policy changes agreed by Academic Policy and Regulations Committee (APRC). Recommendations and decisions are summarised on this page. The full OREA report, giving more detail on process and thinking behind the recommendations, is linked below.

Guidance on Assessment in Semester 2 and beyond

Online remote assessment remains the expectation for Semester 2.

Current guidance on setting online exams

Current guidance about setting online exams is kept up to date on the learning technology help pages.

Support of online exams

Designing online assessment and exams

Thoughtful design of online assessments can test learning outcomes without great increases in staff and student stress. There are also approaches to reduce the risk of academic misconduct. A resource for course and programme organisers is being created on the IAD website.

While major assessment redesign is unlikely to be feasible for Semester 2 in 2020-21, some changes are easier to introduce, and some will be desirable for good assessment design in the longer term regardless of whether assessment is online or in person.

Designing online remote assessment and exams

On-campus exams during pandemic restrictions

Online remote assessments are the default again for Semester 2. Some programmes will require elements of practical in-person assessment. For selected examinations where invigilation is considered essential, for example to satisfy requirements of external accreditation bodies, it may be possible to arrange on-campus invigilated examinations. However, as arrangements are liable to change at short notice, a fall-back plan would also be required. If your course/programme would like to make a case for this, it is important to seek advice well in advance by discussing with

What about students who can’t do exams adequately at home?

Schools have been asked to provide on-campus space for a limited number of students where circumstances prevent them being able to undertake online assessments adequately. This particularly applies to shorter, time-limited online examinations. Circumstances may include difficult home environment or connectivity, or disability adjustments that cannot be provided remotely. Should a School’s capacity to provide space be exhausted, there are some central contingency arrangements. It is important to seek advice by discussing with

Can we use online proctoring?

Online proctoring is far from a panacea, is resource-intensive, and should be reserved for a few high-stakes examinations where there is no satisfactory alternative. From the OREA recommendations:

  • The use of online proctoring should not be mainstreamed. However, the option of online proctoring should be retained for use where there is a clearly defined need.

Guidance is being prepared around this to ensure consistent decision-making. Further information about how online proctoring might be undertaken after going through this process is available on the Information Services assessment help pages: Online Proctoring | The University of Edinburgh

What if I suspect cheating?

It is clear that many students are anxious that they may be disadvantaged by academic misconduct with the move to online assessment. Concerns are around a range of behaviours, ranging from conferring with other current students, to receiving assistance or entire submissions from others. Assistance perhaps comes more commonly from family members, friends and previous students than ‘contract cheating’, but all are real.

There is also concern about the reputation of awards from the University should widespread academic misconduct be discovered. Some professional bodies expect particularly stringent approaches or measures. Staff, students, and the public benefit from measures to discourage and detect misconduct.

No assessment is infallible, and the hardest thing to cheat is a conversation about submitted work. There is a strong argument for including such processes in regular assessment for all. We also now describe how an affirmation meeting (viva) may be conducted in response to a well-grounded suspicion of academic misconduct. This has been introduced as a slight modification to the first stage of existing academic misconduct processes.

Academic Misconduct 

Might some students be systematically disadvantaged by online assessment?

We have tried hard to mitigate negative consequences. Quality assurance reporting is being adjusted to seek evidence of any systematic changes in performance of students with particular characteristics, and this will be returned as part of annual monitoring, overseen by Senate Quality Assurance Committee. Guidance to schools on interrogating dashboards to explore this data is in preparation.

Annual monitoring and reporting information is available on Academic Services quality web pages.

Monitoring and review

The full OREA report

The full OREA report  is available below. The link is to a modified version of the group’s final recommendations, following resolution of some detail, and discussion at Senate Education Committee (SEC) and Academic Policy and Regulations Committee (APRC).


Further details of the OREA group’s discussions are recorded in the paper for and the minutes of SEC held in September 2020.

Additional external resources and further information

Further information and references are being added to the IAD webpages on assessment design.

Link to follow