Administering online exams in Moodle: Quiz or Assignment?

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Last updated: December 23, 2020, 2:51 p.m.

Moodle has two activities you can use to administer a take-home exam: Assignment and Quiz. Generally speaking, Assignment is appropriate for written assessment such as essays, learning journals, final papers etc., which requires manual grading and a longer time frame (days or even weeks) for completion. Quiz is better suited for closed-book tests, supports a variety of question types, and grades automatically, with the exception of the Essay question type, which needs to be graded by human markers.

Assignment and Quiz can both be set up for administering take-home exams. Depending on the kind of exam you have, you may want to choose one over the other. This quick guide will help you determine which one is a better fit and give you a general idea of how to set it up. For information and guidance on these, refer to the following resources:

Before we start, here’s a summary table of key differences between Assignment and Quiz as related to the administration of take-home exams:




How instructor distributes exam questions

Option1: Write all questions in one Word processing document and attach the file in Assignment for students to download when the exam starts

Option 2: Write all your questions in the Description box in Assignment settings (Good for exams with fewer questions)

Option 1: Enter questions in Moodle Question bank (one by one or section by section) and then add to Quiz

Option 2: Import questions (from a specially formatted document) into Moodle Question bank and then add to Quiz

How students answer questions

For option 1: Students download the exam paper, enter responses and upload to Moodle

For option 2: Students enter responses to all questions in a text editor in Moodle (no download or upload required)

Type and edit answers in text boxes in Moodle

How timing can be set up

Allow submission start time,  due date and cutoff date. Cutoff  date can be used to set exam close time after which no submission will be accepted.

Set time limit within a window of time (students can start the exam any time within the open/close time frame but have to submit within the time limit)

Exam security for students

If a student fails to submit the completed exam paper before the exam closes (the cutoff date), there is no way to determine whether and how much he or she has completed. The exam will not count for that student.

Instructor can set up Quiz to auto submit for students once time runs out. So even if they do not click the “Submit all and finish” button, responses completed will be captured by the system.

Collection and grading of exams

Instructor can bulk download completed exam papers, grade off line and bulk upload corrected exams to return to individual students

Student responses are entered in Moodle and instructor will assess student work in Moodle (You can download all student responses in a spreadsheet, but need to reformat to make them easily readable)

Grading method

Manual grading; Semi auto-grading if you created rubrics or marking guide (suitable for a single essay assessment)

Manual grading for essay questions and auto grading for other question types

Rubrics and marking guide

Built-in rubrics and marking guide template for ease of grading and feedback

No built-in rubrics or marking guide template


Group submissions

Allow group submissions

No group submission feature

Scenario 1: Timed, inflexible start time - Quiz

If your exam is timed (e.g. 3 hours) and starts at the same time for all students, theoretically both Assignment and Quiz can work for you. However, for timed exams, it is safer to use Quiz in case students are not able to submit on time due to technical glitches. Quiz can automatically submit what students have completed before time expires. With Assignment, the system cannot prove whether a student completed the exam within the time limit, neither with the file upload option nor the online text option. Students are not able to submit after the exam closes (Cutoff date) unless you accept late submissions by setting up a Due date.

In addition, if your exam contains a mixture of essay questions and other question types that can be computer graded, using Quiz will save you some grading time.

For timed online exams, it is recommended that you give students at least 15 minutes’ buffer to start the exam. That is to say, although all students are given the same amount of time to complete the exam, those who are late for no more than 15 minutes will have an equal chance to finish the exam on time. With Quiz, this can be easily set up using the timing settings.

If you decide to use Assignment, keep in mind that Assignment cannot auto track the time between when a student starts and finishes the exam, so the 15 minutes extra time will actually be bonus time for students who start right on time, which is fine given the current circumstances.

Scenario 2: Timed, flexible start time - Quiz

This scenario is the same as Scenario 1 except that you want to give students the flexibility to start the exam at any time within a longer time frame (e.g. 24-48 hours). For example, you want to open your exam at 9:00 AM, April 16th and close it at 9:00 AM April 17th, with a time constraint of 3 hours. In this case, Quiz is your only option. Assignment does not support such flexibility in timing.

Scenario 3: Untimed - Assignment or Quiz

If your exam is untimed, both Assignment and Quiz can work for you. You can choose either based on your preferred features listed in the comparison table above. With Quiz, make sure you set the open and close time to reflect the duration you will grant students for completing your exam. There is no need to set a Time limit in Quiz as this will be the same as the duration between the open and close time. With Assignment, you will set the Cutoff date as the time for closing your exam (no submission will be accepted after this time). The moment you make the Assignment available to students will be the start of your exam. If you want to give a buffer time, use the Due date as your deadline and use the Cutoff date as the absolute deadline.

Further resources

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