Setting up Alternative Assessment to Exams

This page provides guidance on creating alternative assessments in Blackboard to replace formal invigilated examinations.

In order to help students locate assessments, a consistent approach to the delivery of exam alternatives within Blackboard is recommended, even if the actual assessment type may vary. Below is some general guidance on where and how to deploy this.

Alternative assessments will have been approved with the Student Examinations Team and your department and Faculty. If you have any questions about the assessment that you are delivering, please contact your Exams Officer. Exam alternatives should be set up by departments at least one week in advance of the assessment taking place.

Assessment setup checks

The Digital Learning Team will be available to check a representative sample of a department’s online assessments in Blackboard for any set up errors, or for general advice and feedback. We will not be able to check every individual assessment, but instead request that a single point of contact in the department (normally the Exams Officer) send details of 1-3 assessments to be checked to digital.learning@sheffield.ac.uk. Please allow up to one week for feedback. This is the Alternative Assessment Checklist that will be used to review assessments.  


Setting up an Autumn Semester Assessment section in Blackboard

In order to offer a consistent experience and prevent confusion for students, a separate Autumn Semester Assessment section should be created on your Blackboard course's left hand menu. The section should be hidden from students until set up has been completed.

To add the new Autumn Semester Assessment section, click the plus icon at the top of Blackboard's left hand course menu and choose Content Area. Do not make it available to students until you have completed and checked the assessment set up.

Blackboard's Add Content Area option selected from the left hand course menu

Please create two items in your Autumn Semester Assessment section: an item with the following suggested text, followed by the submission point (see assessment options in the sections below).

Example text for Autumn Semester Assessment section of a Blackboard course. See Google Doc for text.

  • The assignment/test(s) set with correct release dates. This should be hidden to students until the relevant time.
  • Relevant information on what the assessment entails, how long it should take, and when it will be made available.
  • Information about who students should contact if they encounter technical difficulties, making office hours clear, and an alternative email address for questions about the assessment itself.

Suggested text for the Autumn Semester Assessment section of your Blackboard course 





Setting up an assignment (WITHOUT Turnitin)

Assignment submissions not requiring originality checking can be set up using the standard Blackboard Assignment tool. This allows students to submit their work online including the ability to submit multiple files. It also allows students to submit files which aren’t text based, such as ZIP files or images.

For media file submissions, see the guidance under Setting up a Blackboard Media Submission.

Quickstart Guide: How to setup a Blackboard assignment submission point

Setting up an assignment (WITH Turnitin)

Turnitin is a useful tool where the assessment is predominantly text based and requires the submission to be checked for originality, using its in-built text matching service.

Turnitin does not have the same guaranteed capacity during busy times as Blackboard Assignments, therefore due to the unprecedented circumstances we, alongside other universities, do not recommend its use unless originality reports are required, or the department already uses it for its marking features.

When setting up a Turnitin assignment, we recommend allowing late submissions, in order to allow for discretion if a student has interruptions or difficulties during the allotted time.

Quickstart Guide: How to setup a Turnitin assignment

Setting up a Blackboard Test (i.e. Quiz) 

Tests are a flexible assessment within Blackboard that allow for the submission by students of a range of question types, including multiple choices and essay questions. It is the same part of Blackboard where normal computer lab-based exams are set up. Tests can be set up to be formative or summative, with options such as adaptive releases, timers and question randomisation possible.


General settings

  • Limiting questions to one per page can ensure that student responses are automatically submitted after each question. This means that if a student accidentally forgets to submit their work, we will be able to retrieve their answers.
  • It is recommended that the test is not set to force completion, to allow for interruptions or other issues.

Setting the availability of tests

If availability to the test is limited to a particular time, it is recommended this is set to at least 24 hours, in order to take into account different time zones of international students, and the responsibilities and logistics of home students.


Setting timers

Unlike file submission, tests can be set so students have a limited time in which they can complete the test once they begin it. There are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Timers should be used with an understanding that the timer will still be running if the student has technical issues or interruptions, and therefore consider making the timer longer than you normally would in exam conditions.
  • It is recommended auto-submission is not set on timers. This will mean students can still work after the timer has finished, but will be flagged as such. This will allow you to take into account any personal circumstances with discretion.

Essay questions

Blackboard tests can time out after 30 minutes of inactivity, potentially losing work since the student last saved. Therefore some general guidance on the use of essay questions would be:

  • Don’t use tests for lengthy text assignments (consider using one of the assignment submission tools instead).
  • Students should regularly save their work (every five minutes, after writing a significant amount of text, or if leaving their work station).
  • Set the test to show questions ‘one at a time’, which will save the students’ work as they move between questions.
  • If it is a longer piece of written work, suggest to students they type their answer in a word processor and paste the answer into the test, rather than typing directly into it. This means in the event of a network interruption, they still have access to what they have written.

Disability / SpLD exceptions

Exceptions can be made in the test settings for students with additional support needs to have extra time in a timed test, or for the test to be available for longer for individuals.


Preventing collusion

Some measures to prevent collusion may include:

  • Randomising the order in which questions appear
  • Randomising the order of answers within a question
  • Using a pool of questions, where students see a different random question from a central bank, may be suitable in some situations. Please contact digital.learning@sheffield.ac.uk for advice if you are unsure how to do this, or if it is appropriate to do so.
  • Use calculated questions for mathematical questions. Please contact digital.learning@sheffield.ac.uk if you would like advice or assistance in doing so.

Creating a Blackboard Test

Deploying a Blackboard Test in your course









Quickstart Guide: How to setup Blackboard Tests

Blackboard Tests for Mathematics guidance

Setting up a Crowdmark assignment

Crowdmark is an assessment tool accessed through Blackboard that enables students to submit handwritten work as PDFs or image files. This is a new tool and students should be given the link to the student guidance available on the Crowdmark webpages as well as any subject specific instructions.

Lateness penalties

Crowdmark forces you to enter a lateness penalty. This can be a departmental decision and note this can be rectified after submission, but do ensure you explicitly say in the description what the penalty for late submission is.

Setting timers

Crowdmark can be set so students have a limited time in which they can complete the test once they begin it. There are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Timers should be used with an understanding that the timer will still be running if the student has technical issues or interruptions, and therefore consider making the timer longer than you normally would in exam conditions.
  • You must ensure that you have synced at least one other instructor through into Crowdmark as detailed in the Crowdmark setup video, and quick start guide below.

Setting up a Crowdmark assignment

Marking work and releasing grades

Quickstart Guide: How to set up a Crowdmark assignment

Setting up a Blackboard Media Submission 

Media (audio or video) files can be submitted via Blackboard. This method has to be done with caution, taking into account the IT hardware and internet connectivity students have access to at home.

One of the biggest limitations is domestic internet upload speeds. Students should aim to upload their media assignment well in advance of the deadline, and staff should set media assignments that are short in duration to help manage file sizes. All common media file formats and sizes can be submitted to Blackboard.

Quickstart Guide: How to set up a Blackboard Media Submission

Incident Reporting

The Student Examinations Team have developed an incident reporting form for students to report any issues that arise during an online timed assessments. Students must complete the form linked below. This does not necessarily have to be completed during the assessment, but must be submitted as soon as possible afterwards. 

Online Assessment Report Form for Assessments 2020-21

The information students include on this form will be monitored by the Student Examinations Team, SAS. Key information will be verified and reported, as required, to the appropriate academic or professional services department.

Help & Support

We appreciate some of these tools and methods will be new to many colleagues. The Digital Learning Team offer a range of opportunities to get support and guidance during this time.





Assessment setup checks

The Digital Learning Team will be available to check a representative sample of a department’s online assessments in Blackboard for any set up errors, or for general advice and feedback. We will not be able to check every individual assessment, but instead request that a single point of contact in the department (normally the Exams Officer) send details of 1-3 assessments to be checked to digital.learning@sheffield.ac.uk. Please allow up to one week for feedback. This is the Alternative Assessment Checklist that will be used to review assessments.  





One-to-one sessions

If you would like any advice about the process or general advice about online learning, teaching or assessment, we offer short online advice slots, held Monday-Friday. Book an advice slot here.





Online guides

Online guidance is available, tailored to setting up assessments for these particular circumstances. 





Sandbox courses

If you would like a test course to practice using Blackboard, please complete a Sandbox course request.





Student Guidance for Online Assessment

Guidance for students on alternative assessment is available, and includes a practice course where students can try out submitting different assessment types online, as well as resources and support from 301 and the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service.