Final Exams – Network Load


I hope that you all had a restful and healthy weekend…

Today marks the beginning of the Term 2 Exam schedule (ending April 29). I have heard from many of you and very much appreciate the time and effort that you’ve taken to create valid and meaningful final exam assessments. Please let me know if you encounter any problems. I would also like to hear about your experiences in administering your exams.

One thing to note as the exam period begins is that the load on UBC’s computing networks may, at times, be high, with potentially thousands of students writing online exams at the same time.

We are fortunate to have smaller classes in the Faculty of Forestry for the most part, but it is worth considering the following:

  1. Students may experience delays in starting an exam. Try to be online (either you or your TAs) as they write the exam, so that students can communicate with you in case this (or some other technological glitch) happens. Please also allow for extra time in case you encounter any such issues.
  2. If you have more than 100 students writing an exam, you might want to have staggered (10 minute) starts for every 100 students.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.



As a follow up to this email, I’d like to share some thoughts of one our instructors, Greg Paradis, who has invested a great deal of time and energy into ‘looking under the hood’ of online exams. If you are intending to implement a final exam online, please take the time to read through Greg’s fulsome and well-thought out analsysis below. The take home message – online exams are complicated! Please let me know if you run into any issues.

Many thanks, Greg, for all of your efforts on this.


If a final exam is being deployed using the Canvas quiz interface (with or without Proctorio), there is very little that instructors and TAs can objectively do to resolve “technical glitches” once the exam has started. There are basically two types of technical issues I can imaging students encountering: (a) poorly implemented exam questions, (b) poorly prepared students, and (c) Canvas or Proctorio software crashes or bugs.

Type (a) problems can be largely eliminated before the exam with rigorous testing by whoever wrote the exam. Any residual problems cannot really be “fixed” after the exam has started. So, students would potentially waste time contacting instructors or TAs, simply to be told to proceed as best they can with the exam questions as-is—this time would likely have been better spent writing the exam … I think the students would be better served if we made it clear that they are on their own once they start the exam. If there are any “bad questions” lurking in the exam, all students will be faced with an identical challenge. Grades can be scaled up after the exam if need be, in part to compensate for bad questions.

Type (b) would be caused by students having imperfect mastery of the Canvas quiz software interface (i.e., they do not quite understand what to do to correctly answer the question). These problems can largely be eliminated before the exam with practice quizzes and such, but it is too late to begin addressing any of these types of issues during the exam. The advice for type (a) problems applies here as well: complete all exam questions as best you can within the time limits. Writing online exams requires slightly different skills than writing paper exams, but all students will be faced with an identical challenge. Grades can be scaled up after the exam if need be, in part to compensate for bad questions.

Type (c) problems are almost entirely out of my control as an instructor. If the Canvas crashes or the students have difficulty setting up Proctorio, they would be wasting their time speaking with an instructor. Only UBC LT Hub support staff (if the exam is scheduled during their work hours) can help resolve live Canvas technical issue , and only Proctorio support staff can help resolve live Proctorio technical issues (from the live chat function built in to the Proctorio interface, during the exam, of over the phone).

[Regarding classes that have] more than 100 students writing an exam…The only not-crazy-complicated way I can think of implementing this with Canvas quizzes would be publishing a list of student IDs with start times, and asking students to start at the time that matches their student ID.

It is possible to have multiple identical quizzes on Canvas, with staggered start and end times, and to assign groups of 100 students to each exam. However as far as I know each student name would have to be typed individually into the Canvas quiz configuration interface to add one-by-one to the quiz…unless the 100-student slices were previously set up in Canvas as “sections”, then I think you could point to entire sections. Instructors do not have the ability in the system to create their own “sections” (as far as I know), so someone else would have to set this up (complicated, and error-prone…).

Posted in: ,

Related Articles