I am teaching a college level course, and a few students had technical issues during exam 1 (held online) and where not able to complete various parts of the exam. One option that I could think of is to use their grade from a future exam (also held online) as their exam 1 grade. Designing another complete exam 1 is not an option in our case.

But I am wondering if there are better alternatives.... could you share your experiences regarding dealing with such issues?

  • 8
    Arbitrarily choosing another assignment to count for double credit doesn't seem like a great choice - it can give an advantage/disadvantage if that other assignment is any easier/harder than the one that was missed. Simply not including Exam 1 in the scoring for students that missed it is probably more fair. Mar 8, 2021 at 17:04
  • Is this a course where grades must be on a curve? Mar 9, 2021 at 19:24

4 Answers 4


What I have been doing this year, depending on the class, is to either allow the students who have technical problems to take a makeup exam in another day on the part they couldn't complete, or to compensate with an additional question at the oral exam.

From your question, I'd either integrate the missing parts with an oral discussion, if oral exams are acceptable in your country or university, or with a written test with a few questions around the missing parts without redesigning the whole exam though.


I guess this answer won't be popular, but my strong suggestion is that you rethink student evaluation from the start. Exams aren't the only way that you can assess student learning and they are a poor way, in any case, to assess real competence in a field like CS. Add in all of the ways to creatively cheat on online exams and it quickly becomes a near impossible task to validate results.

Some ideas, but I don't have a comprehensive list:

Assess in smaller units more frequently so that "high risk" isn't a factor.

Make the grading scheme somewhat forgiving, so that a few bad answers don't have a large effect on grades.

Take "time to finish" out of the equation as much as possible to account for technical glitches.

Lessen the importance of "question - answer" grading in favor of things like projects that require deeper and more comprehensive knowledge.

Use questions that don't have trivial answers than can be quickly looked up. Likewise don't reuse questions that might have archived answers.

Lessen the importance of "individual work" at least somewhat. Effective teamwork is an important skill in many fields, including CS.

For some students it may be necessary to provide a communication channel to clear up misunderstandings. But make it global. Everyone should see every question and its answer.

For some student issues it may be necessary to talk to professionals skilled in the various communication difficulties that arise (dyslexia...).

  • 2
    @Roland, their profile suggested that this is their field. But it applies to many fields: Philosophy, say.
    – Buffy
    Mar 8, 2021 at 16:18
  • 4
    @ZeroTheHero, certainly impractical if you blow them off. Nothing works until you make it work.
    – Buffy
    Mar 9, 2021 at 0:17
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    I already do a lot of the stuff you suggest but - for instance - it’s not terribly practical to have projects in a class of 75 students. I have colleagues who chose to go the essay route, but reading 100 5-page essays is overwhelming, and while it cuts down on copying it doesn’t cut down on plagiarism: students just cut-and-paste from the web... Mar 9, 2021 at 1:36
  • 5
    @ZeroTheHero "it’s not terribly practical to have projects in a class of 75 students" My university regularly does projects in classes composed of hundreds of students. My understanding is that one of the tricks to making it work is to have all the students enroll into tutorials of 20-30 students each, and then getting the tutors do the marking. Additionally, if you make the projects group projects with teams of 5, then 75 students becomes 15 teams, which is a lot easier to mark.
    – nick012000
    Mar 9, 2021 at 5:44
  • 1
    @ljrk, actually, the OP does seem to be in CS/SE from the profile. So, coding is a necessary skill, needed at a pretty high level for all the other things.
    – Buffy
    Mar 9, 2021 at 21:07

My philosophy is that the vote is my best statistical estimate of the student's preparation on the whole of the course's contents, based on what I can evaluate during the exam. If I taught 30 topics during the course and I ask 3 of them during the exam, then I can assume their answers reflect their preparation also on the other 27 topics. There is an error bar, of course, but that's unavoidable, given the limited time I can put in for each student.

So, if you have more tests, you are good; just skip Exam 1 (EDIT: I mean, ignore it just for the students that could not complete it; students who have a full set of grades should still be evaluated on all of them) and renormalize the outcomes of the further exams. The error bars will be larger, but this is unavoidable.

  • 2
    By this logic, there's no point in having two exams at all--just ask one question at the end of the term and score everyone pass/fail! Less pithy: This response ignores the time dependency between scores and the possibility that one exam is harder than the other, and it doesn't provide students with a uniform incentive to try to do better on the second exam or learn from their mistakes on the first.
    – Max
    Mar 9, 2021 at 0:43
  • 1
    If you throw out exam 1 for the students who missed it and leave it in for the students who didn't, then there is greater variance in the scores of the latter group, and thus their final grades offer less indication of their knowledge of the subject than the other students'. If you throw out exam 1 for everyone, then a student who does worse on exam 2 can justifiably claim they weren't graded according to this syllabus.
    – Max
    Mar 9, 2021 at 7:14
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    Not to mention that if you show the students that having technical issues negates the score entirely, then the dominant strategy for a student who did well on exam 1 is to claim to encounter technical issues on exam 2. And you probably do not want to be in the position of having to judge subjectively which claims of technical issues are valid or not.
    – Max
    Mar 9, 2021 at 7:16
  • 2
    I agree that that policy is marginally better, but it still has the unequal variances problem. An A average over two exams is a stronger indication of understanding than an A average over one exam, but this distinction won't be reflected on students' transcripts. And you have to take care to ensure that if exam 2 is harder/easier than exam 1, then the students who only took exam 2 don't get unfairly penalized/rewarded.
    – Max
    Mar 9, 2021 at 7:33
  • 1
    Fair marking requires by definition a common error bar. Ignoring that, you are implicitly saying that you are giving markings for the same course, for the same students, with two different methods. This is not fair, by definition. I still think your answer is helpful, it helps focusing on the correct definition of mark/grades, thanks!
    – EarlGrey
    Mar 9, 2021 at 13:40

Grade the complete exams, for everyone, then remove all the "various parts of the exam" that could not be completed for everyone, give marks again, pick the higher mark for each student.

It's the only fair thing you can do, given the conditions.

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