Blackboard Tests for Mathematics

This guidance is collated from hints and tips submitted from across the University, with particular thanks to the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Faculty of Engineering and the School of Mathematics and Statistics.

A really good starting point is a video by Dr Matthew Mears (Department of Physics and Astronomy) showing how to use the most common types of maths questions in Blackboard Tests.

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Numerical answers

Fractions and percentages

Answers need to be in decimal of exponential form. If students try to put in a fraction there is a warning but it is best to be explicit in the questions about using decimals.


The required accuracy level needs to be set for every question. For answers to be marked correct they will need to be given to the correct degree of accuracy. If the answer must be exact the answer range should be left at zero.

Scientific notation/standard form

When students are putting in answers it is not possible to use the form a x 10n but for calculated numeric questions scientific notation with a capital E with no spaces can be used, for example 1.5E6. In calculated formula questions either a capital or lower case e may be used for example 1.5e6 or 1.5E6.

Calculated formula questions


You must make sure you specify the degree of accuracy students need to use!

For a question to be marked as correct the students answer must be to the same degree of accuracy as the answer is calculated to. This is true even if answers within a range are allowed. E.g If a student was asked the area of a circle radius 1 and it's set to calculate the answer to 2dp with +/- 0.1 specified. A student who puts in 3.142 would still be marked as incorrect because although their answer is within the range and more accurate it is not to the correct accuracy level.

Using significant figures sometimes causes problems with automatic marking

There is an issue with correct answers being marked as incorrect in a few specific cases where accuracy is given to a number of significant figures. Blackboard has confirmed that in calculated formula answers where accuracy is given to a number of significant figures and the last significant figure is a 0 there is an issue due to differing conventions in rounding.

If there is a 0 as the last digit, Blackboard Tests is expecting that students will put a decimal point at the end in order to show that the 0 or 0s are significant. 399.99 rounded to 3 significant figures to 400 would be marked incorrect unless written as 400. with the decimal point at the end. This appears to be an American convention e.g. Columbia University guidance shows this.

In examples where there are more digits in the number than the amount of significant figures specified this can also causes an issue if there are trailing zeros and one or more of the zeros should have been included in the significant figures e.g. 130+170 to 2sf +/- 5% gives 300 which is marked as wrong because it is seen as one significant figure but 290 marked correct. Giving the answer as 3E2 would be marked as correct.

Defining variables

  • The students will not see the letter you have chosen to define the variable, it is only for your use.
  • Square brackets are used to define the variables in the question. You should avoid using square brackets in the rest of your question but if they are needed you can do this by putting a backslash in front e.g. \[
  • In the answer formula you don’t need the square brackets just the letter used for the variable.
  • “Pi” and “e” can’t be used as variables
  • A variable can have more than one letter e.g. [ab]
  • The case of the letter matters and it is possible to have the same letter in both upper and lower case.

Variables inside the maths editor

Using variables inside the maths editor can cause problems. A work around for this is to use a symbol or letter in the formula e.g. a or x and in the text specify what the variable is equal to e.g. a = [a] or x = [x].

Using scientific notation/standard form in writing questions

In calculated formula questions it is not possible to use the form a x 10n but it is possible to use E or e with no spaces when inputting the questions though blackboard will convert this to a number when displaying it to students. Students will also be able to answer using E or e for example 1.5e6 or 1.5E6.

A work around is to make the variable between 1 and 10 but put the x 10n in the question. There will need to be a correction in the answer formula to multiply by 10n. Dr Matthew Mears has a good example of this in his video on Blackboard Maths Tests.

Adding in pictures

There is a workaround for uploading images into Calculated Formula Question types. If you right click on the whitespace in the text box (or use CTRL/CMD + V) you can paste in the image URL. The image can be public on the web, or hosted within Blackboard. Instructions for hosting the image in Blackboard are below.

Blackboard Test's Calculated Formula Question with an image inserted in the Content Editor

Image alignment can be changed by right clicking on the image, and choosing 'Alignment'.

The image will need to be hosted on Blackboard. To host the image, first log on to your Blackboard Course and then:

  1. Under the Control Panel, select Content Collection. Select your course.
  2. Click Upload, then Upload Files. Upload the image(s) for the test - you can create a folder to keep them in one place.
  3. Locate your image. Click on the arrow and select 360 View.
  4. A new window will open. Copy the Permanent URL.

You can then paste this into the Image URL box as described above.


If you are inputting a single line of mathematics you are probably best using the Blackboard maths editor. For anything longer especially where you might want to copy and paste to make small changes between lines LaTeX is probably better.

All question types allow for LaTeX input with double dollar signs at the start and end. When copying and pasting into the editor you should remove the formatting when prompted. The eye button gives a preview to check the rendering. If this option is not shown you may only be seeing the top line and should click on the buttons with the three dots at the right hand side.

Blackboard's Maths Editor. Screenshot shows how text is entered and rendered in LaTeX.

Equations in other formats

MathML can be used but students should be made aware that this will not work in all browsers. Firefox has the most comprehensive native support for MathML and is the recommended browser if MathML is being used.

Support for MathJax was disabled in Blackboard when moving over to SAAS deployment as it is not compatible. In some instances it may still work but you should check carefully that it has rendered correctly.


If you draw questions from a pool the student will still get the same questions if they close the test and reopen it. When they have submitted if they do it again then the questions will be drawn at random again.

Please see this guidance page for more information on creating pool questions to be used in a test.   

Additional tips from staff

  • If you find a typo after students have sat the test, you can edit the answer and automatically remark all submissions, should this be appropriate, for all except calculated questions.
  • Set up a sensible question pool name and create all your questions in there before creating the quiz. This will help a lot later with database management and searching for things.
  • You can use “response feedback” to show the correct working.

Further information

The answer formula tool is written by WIRIS. To learn more, please see the WIRIS manual.