Internal - Faculty & Staff

Grading in an Online Course

Academic Honesty & Integrity

Many instructors are concerned about academic honesty when considering online assessments. It is not an unfounded concern – cheating can occur in many ways. Students who take the exam first may provide answers to those taking it later, or some students may take screenshots of the interface and pass them along to others.

But while it may not be feasible to completely prevent cheating, you can take steps to minimize it.


  • Be sure to have students sign an academic integrity policy that defines cheating and outlines expectations for honesty.
  • Be aware. While you should not assume every student will cheat, keep your eyes open for suspicious behavior and unexpectedly high exam grades.
  • Use email, chat or a webinar meeting to verify the level of a student’s knowledge of the test content after an unexpectedly good performance.

Test Construction

  • Limit the duration of the test’s availability and the time limit for taking it.
  • Randomize the order in which the questions are presented and randomize the order of each question’s answers.
  • Provide a different test for those taking the test late or experiencing a technical difficulty while taking the original test, such as a system crash or power failure.
  • Use the test as a teaching and learning tool, rather than simply a measure of fact recall. With less emphasis on the grade and more on the learning process, there is less incentive to cheat. For instance, allow students more than one attempt with the intent they will return to the course content to learn what they missed the first time.
  • You can require a follow-up assignment that requires them to demonstrate knowledge in the areas they had not mastered at the time of the test.
  • Pair online objective tests with subjective measures, such as writing assignments, projects, applied problems, and group work.
Grading Weights & Percentages

Include explicitly defined grading criteria in your course syllabus. This should include all of the graded assignments and their description, and the percentage of the overall grade assigned to each.

Grading and Course Deliverables (Assignments)

Assignment Individual/Group Percent
Total   100%

In an online course especially, where discussion boards are often a prominent learning tool, participation should be a graded component of the course. Be sure to define clear criteria for measuring student participation in a systematic way.  Explicitly state your expectations regarding student participation in online discussions at the beginning of the course. This might include:

  • Providing a requirement for how many times or how frequently you want students to post to the discussion board.
  • Specifying the preferred post length (within a range).
  • Providing an example of a response that demonstrates the desired quality of content.

Assignments that you will grade subjectively, such as discussion board posts, reflection papers or journal entries, should be graded using rubrics. To help students understand how you will assess their submission, include a copy of the rubric in the syllabus.

Additional resource for thinking about grading percentages:

Distributing Points and Percentages Across Assignments and Activities

Provocative ideas about how we think about grading percentages from a professor.