This page provides a repository of online support on the development of TCAs.  Offering bespoke guidance on writing questions, pedagogical support and tips on operational aspects.

Time constrained assessments (TCAs) have been devised as a method of delivering online, time-bound assessments that are taken remotely by the student.  Although originally developed as an exam-equivalent solution to delivering assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic, TCAs can be effectively utilized by courses looking for more flexibility than face-to-face exams will permit.

There are key areas to consider: 

  • Ensure the questions are valid: Writing valid assessments ensures that your assessment outcomes, and learning outcomes are appropriately reflected in the assessment, and that these are appropriate for the level of study. References to Bloom’s taxonomy within this page will help prompt you to write questions that clearly align to your assessment outcomes.  
  • Make the assessments fair: Writing fair assessments means that your assessments are non-discriminatory and inclusive. This is important in terms of accessibility (see our accessibility toolkit for more guidance on this: Accessibility Toolkit.) 
  • Assessments need to be transparent: Using clear, unambiguous instructional language in your questions will help your students to understand the assessment task.  Guidance on this page will support you with framing and writing student instructions and tasks. 
  • Questions should be robust: TCAs can effectively deliver robust assessments, however, ensuring this may be a point of concern for those new to writing TCAs.  The use of time-release functions and Turnitin’s plagiarism detection tool helps to reduce the risk of collusion and plagiarism.  The guidance on this page will support you to write effective TCA (open-book) questions, with answers that can not easily be found on Google.  

This guidance aims to support you in the process of designing and writing TCA questions, to help ensure that your assessments are as effective as can be. 

Note: The technical setup of TCAs (including the use of timed release content on the VLE and time-bound Turnitin assessment points) is covered in detail on the page: Link | Technical Setup for TCA’s.

Instructional language and framing of assessments.

Consider the language used in assigning assessment tasks and the role this plays in guiding students through the assessment process.  

“Good practice for setting assignments/TCAs – reduce student uncertainty and anxiety with clear instructions, e.g. language and details” 

To ensure students are able to complete their assessment effectively it is important to ensure that each assessment is accompanied with clear instructions. Using clear, coherent and consistent instructional language can support student uncertainty and anxiety and can enable them to answer questions to the best of their ability.  

Keep it simple– Where possible instructions should be concise, this includes the guidance offered in pre-task instructions, as well as for the released TCA.  

 Below is a checklist of key elements which need to be considered when writing instructional language: 

  • Use headings and subheadings to break up chunks of text and make it easier to digest. 
  • Outline clear key dates/times – When will the TCA be released and closed? 
  • Be clear on expectations – How are they expected to answer and what type of questions should they face?  
  • Identify and state any limitations – Are there any word limits?  
  • Indicate submission details – How should they submit? Any requirements for submission? 
  • Outline and signpost where to find support – Who do they need to contact if there is an issue with a TCA? 
Question writing.

When writing questions for TCAs it is important to remember that questions from previous exams should not be copied directly, but instead should be adapted or altered for use again in assessments. This amendment is to ensure that questions are both suitable for the purpose of a TCA and are aimed at the appropriate level of study to meet the assessment outcomes.  

Questions for different levels of study

When writing questions for TCAs you must ensure that they are appropriate to the correct level of study. For example, the expected outputs and academic writing skills for students at level 4 will be different to a level 7 masters students.

Blooms taxonomy can be used to support you with designing questions appropriate to the students level. Blooms taxonomy can be utilised through the framework of ‘lower order thinking skills’, and ‘higher order thinking skills’:

Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS)

Suitable questions types:

  • Multiple-choice questions.
  • True/False.
  • Matching.
  • Fill in the blanks.

What type of knowledge can LOTS help assess:

These lower order thinking skills can support assessing the following:  

  • Recalling facts and basic concepts (Remember) 
  • Explain Ideas of concepts (Understand) 
  • Use information in new situations (Apply) 

Higher order thinking skills (HOTS)

Suitable questions types:

  • Short form answers.
  • Essay responses.
  • Multiple Choice Questions *

*e.g. case based questions to test higher order thinking skills for complex ideas/concepts

What type of knowledge can HOTS help assess:

These higher order thinking skills can support assessing the following:  

  • Making connections between ideas (Analyse) 
  • Justifying ideas or statements (Evaluate) 
  • Produce new or original ideas/thoughts based on findings (Create 

When is it appropriate to use ‘lower order thinking skills’ (LOTS) & ‘higher order thinking skills’ (HOTS):

Using lower order thinking skills can be suitable for use with all cohorts to assess a basic understanding and grasp of key concepts. However, higher order thinking skills need to be considered carefully dependent on the level of study. 

To ensure that students are given adequate opportunity to demonstrate their understanding in wider concepts, it is important to look at a wide range of question types, levels and approaches.  

Creative Questioning: Question Authenticity

Whilst generic question sets based off of knowledge can be used, it can be useful to explore  personalised assessment questions. This can be achieved by making use of case studies and problem-based assessments, which in this format are both authentic and require more complex analytical and evaluative skills. In turn this will require students to give an individualised response to the question, therefore reducing the risk of collusion.

For example:

Should students comment on their own experience in this area; their own workplace, their lab experience or draw on personal reflection.

Question stems.

Question stems (or the beginning part of questions) can be used to create question sets at the appropriate level. The list below is not exhaustive but provides a starting point for question creation in line with your subject specific requirements. There are also some key verbs which can be used to help frame questions.

Lower order question stems

Click to expand each box

Remember

Example key verbs : define, who, what, when, list, label, locate, match

Example questions:

  • Can you list…
  • Can you match the _____ correctly?
  • When did ____happen?
Understand

Example key verbs : Explain, interpret, outline, discuss, restate, identify, describe, summarise, which

Example questions:

  • Can you explain what is happening when….
  • Which statement best shows….
  • How would you summarise…
Application

Example key verbs : Solve, predict, construct, demonstrate, classify, apply

Example questions:

  • What would you predict would happen if…
  • Applying _____, what approach would you use to…
  • Using _____ how would you solve

Higher order question stems

Click to expand each box

Analyse

Example key verbs :What, analyse, identify, examine, investigate, infer

Example questions:

  • What can you infer ____
  • Can you analyse ____ and the reasons behind ____
  • Using the information below, examine and identify_____
Evaluate

Example key verbs – Evaluate, find, decide, justify, debate, select

Example questions:

  • Select the appropriate action/theory for _____ and justify your reasoning
  • ______: can you debate the pros and cons
  • Can you justify the importance of _____ in the context of_____
Create

Example key verbs : Create, invent, propose, design, plan, formulate

Example questions:

  • What alternatives would you suggest for____ and why?
  • How would you design____ taking into account ____
  • Using the information below, how would you formulate____ and explain your decisions.
Flip the question.

One approach to writing more effective open-book questions is to begin with considering a ‘lower-order’, ‘remember’ style question, and then flip the question by challenging the student to explain ‘why’ this is the correct answer. This approach no longer rewards the student for remembering a fact, but asks the student to demonstrate their understanding of how and why.   

In the question examples below, compare the ‘Remember’ (LOTS) to the ‘Understand’ (HOTS) examples.

Click the control dots at the bottom of each box to see examples how this question has been flipped. 

Remember

Q: In DNA replication, what enzyme facilitates the unwinding of double-stranded DNA? 

A: Helicase. 

Understand

Q: In DNA replication, helicase facilitates the unwinding of double-stranded DNA, why is this necessary for DNA to replicate? 

A: Because DNA polymerase requires single-stranded DNA to act as a template for copying. 

Remember

Q: Juan Gris’ ‘Still Life with Checked Tablecloth’ is attributed to which art movement? 

A: Cubism. 

Understand

Q: Explain why works such as Juan Gris’ ‘Still Life with Checked Tablecloth’ are attributed with the Cubism art movement? 

A: Still Life with Checked Tablecloth demonstrates simple geometric shapes, interlocking planes and appears to show perspective from more than one viewpoint, all of which are commonly attributed to Cubism. 

Remember

Q: Prison population between 1990 and 2022 has: A) doubled, B) tripled, C) Quadrupled?

A: Doubled

Understand

Q: Prison population between 1990 and 2022 has doubled, explain how changes sentencing and court rulings have influenced this rise? 

A:With this question, students are tasked with demonstrating their understanding of the changes in prison numbers in relation to a specific influencing factor rather than simply remembering the change

Question types and timing/duration

The information below will help identify a range of questions and suggest key timings for your TCA. The timings relate to approximately how much time should be given for each question type, helping you calculate how many questions to use in your TCA. We have broken down each question type below:

This type of question asks students to write a short answer (roughly 1 – 2 sentences) regarding an outcome and can be useful for application type questions.  

Example question: 

What would you predict to happen if you add magnesium to hydrochloric acid? 

Timings: Allow roughly 120 seconds per short-form answer.  

This type of question asks the students to write an essay style output in which they can demonstrate higher order skills such as analysis, evaluation and creation. (roughly – a few paragraphs is suitable) 

Example question: 

Select some appropriate strategies when looking at supporting students with dyslexia and justify your reasoning.

Timings: Allow roughly 10 – 15 minutes per long form answer.

These questions types may be used with TCA’s if these questions assess higher order thinking skills, but should not form the majority of TCA’s.


This question gives the student some key words
(although not always) and a pre-written sentence/paragraph with some information missing (blank spaces). The students can use the key words, if available, to insert in the blank spaces to ensure the sentence/paragraph is factually correct. The students can either have one or multiple blank spaces to complete. 
 

Example question: 

Language  _______ well be programmed into the brain but_____,  this, people still need stimulus from others around them. From studies, we know that ________ children are isolated from human contact and have not learnt to construct sentences before they are ten, it is doubtful they will ever do so.  

Timings: allow roughly 120 seconds per question.

These questions types may be used with TCA’s if these questions assess higher order thinking skills, but should not form the majority of TCA’s.

A student asks “Why is Utilitarianism so difficult and demanding?” Another student replies “Utilitarianism forces moral people to respond to important moral concerns while allowing immoral people to pursue their own goals”

What is wrong with this answer?

A. Nothing – that answer is correct.
B. It is not an accurate description of what utilitarianism requires of moral people.
C. It is not an accurate description of what utilitarianism allows of immoral people.*
D. It relies on a false  between moral people and immoral people.

Timings: For simple MCQ’s allow roughly 30-60 seconds per multiple choice question for students to answer. However, more in depth multiple choice questions may require 3-5 minutes per question.