If students are all at home anyway, how is a take-home exam different? 

In a take-home exam, there’s an extended time period between when the exam questions are released and when students need to submit their responses – this would usually amount to between six and 24 hours for an exam that they’d normally complete in two hours. This way, they can: log in, download the paper and log off; complete the questions within the allocated exam window; and then log in again and submit their answers before the time window closes. 

Take-home exams make a lot of sense in the current environment, but require some thought to work well.  Here are some things to think about in designing one.

Question types

Take-home exams are always open book and should have questions that invite higher-level thinking, interpretation and application rather than recall of factual material. Think about case-based, scenario-based or problem-based questions, providing students with data to work with and report on, posing issues that require students to generate new solutions, or questions that include reflection.  

Exams that require research need to allow students time to do this and then write up the response, but should not require extensive research or access to resources that some students may not have. Tasks that involve extensive research should simply become ‘assignments’ with a turnaround of a week or longer.

Student equity

A 24-hour window should be sufficient for most students, but the timeframe should allow for some flexibility in timing, (e.g. for carer responsibilities, differences in home environments and support for any technology issues that might arise).  Students should have opportunities to practice using the exam set-up in advance where possible.

Student anxiety and wellbeing

Exams are stressful. Take-home exams might be considered a less stressful option than timed, invigilated exams, but can still promote anxiety and unhealthy student behaviours (such as going without eating or sleeping) during the exam window. Additionally, students might be doing 3-4 take-home exams over the exam weeks. For this reason, exam windows longer than 24 hours are not recommended.  

Exam questions should also be of similar difficulty to the normal exam – not harder – but could include reflections on processes as well as solutions. Give students practice questions so they know what to expect, and advise students on how to best prepare beforehand.

What about cheating? 

Cheating is a possibility in any kind of assessment, and invigilated exams are not immune. In a large study of student contract cheating (Bretag et al, 2018; Harper, Bretag & Rundle, 2020), 6% of students reported giving or receiving assistance with assessment tasks.  More students reported cheating behaviours in exams than on assignments. More students reported cheating on MCQs (by giving help or receiving it) than on take-home exams. Contract cheating can be encouraged by much shorter time periods (and they make it more expensive).  So what can be done? Here are our 7 tips:

  1. Create a good learning and teaching environment during the teaching session
  2. Develop students’ awareness of academic integrity and their ability to undertake all of their studies with integrity
  3. Develop students’ awareness of English-language support opportunities and encourage them to participate
  4. Support students to prepare for the take-home exam, especially if it’s an unfamiliar format for most. Provide practice questions with model answers and feedback (which could be generic) and practice opportunities to submit (especially if you’re using a different submission method from that used for assignments)
  5. Have localised, applied, interpretive or reflective questions that incorporate material that is more specific to the course or ask about process as well as answers
  6. Provide clear advice to students on the provision for vivas being used if cheating is suspected and the penalities that can be applied for cheating
  7. Ask markers to look for evidence of contract cheating – if markers look for it, they’re more likely to find it if it’s there.

Take-home exams are not just exams, and they’re not just assignments. With thoughtful design, support for students and attention to academic integrity they can be a valid part of your assessment strategy. And not just in unusual times!

For more information

  • Read our newly updated Exams section of our Remote Teaching FAQs page
  • This student post is an oldie but a goodie on the subject of preparing for and doing take-home exams


Bretag, T., Harper, R., Burton, M., Ellis, C., Newton, P., Saddiqui, S., Rozenberg, P & van Haeringen, K. (2018). Contract cheating: a survey of Australian university students, Studies in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/03075079.2018.1462788 

Dawson, P., & Sutherland-Smith, W. (2018). Can markers detect contract cheating? Results from a pilot study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(2), 286-293. doi:10.1080/02602938.2017.1336746 

Dawson, P., & Sutherland-Smith, W. (2019). Can training improve marker accuracy at detecting contract cheating? A multi-disciplinary pre-post study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(5), 715-725. doi:10.1080/02602938.2018.1531109 

Harper, R., Bretag, T., & Rundle, K. (2020). Detecting contract cheating: examining the role of assessment type. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16. doi:10.1080/07294360.2020.1724899

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