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Understanding the different types of exams at academic institutions

Examination and Proctoring | 6 Min Read

Understanding the different types of exams at academic institutions

About This Topic


As a university, understanding the different types of exams used in academic settings is crucial for ensuring a fair and effective assessment of students’ knowledge and skills. With various exam formats being employed to evaluate students’ progress, it is important to explore the characteristics, purposes, and implications of these assessment methods. This knowledge will enable informed decisions regarding the types of exams used within our academic programs, ultimately contributing to a more comprehensive and supportive learning environment for students.


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Nine types of exams used by academic institutions

1. Computational exams

This type of exam is generally used in subjects like linguistics, computer science, and mathematics. In a computational exam, students are required to complete puzzles and perform calculations in order to pass. Some exams may also require students to show their work and the steps they followed to reach their conclusion.


  • Allows students to use multiple ways to find the correct answer.
  • Empowers students to practice by solving similar questions before their actual exam.
  • Ensures consistent marking as computational exams are less subjective.


Students may struggle in situations where they have forgotten to bring a calculator, have not practiced enough, or if they simply do not know how to solve the question.


2. Group discussions 

Group discussions are a form of assessment in which a small group of students are given a pre-arranged topic, which they must discuss in front of assessors. Group discussions are generally conducted in groups of three to six students and can last from eight to fifteen minutes. The students are generally provided with a discussion prompt, which can include words or phrases or images to assist their memory, along with a specific question that guides the debate.


  • Assesses students on several aspects, including their content knowledge, teamwork, communication skills, and delivery.
  • Helps students gain experience working in groups and become confident speakers.


For some students, such university exams may seem stressful and challenging, and they may find an imbalance in managing time. It can also be difficult for teachers to effectively assess multiple students at the same time, while also evaluating their delivery, content knowledge, and participation.


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3. Interviews

These types of university exams are quite common in courses that revolve around speaking or listening. Assessed interviews are generally held between a student and one or more teachers, where the assessing panel asks the students a series of interview questions and the students are assessed based on the answers they give and the way they respond, which defines their final grade.


  • Allows the assessor to evaluate the on-the-spot speaking and listening skills of students.
  • Helps evaluate the practical understanding of students on specific concepts.


Interviews can lead to students feeling nervous beforehand. Additionally, a student may be asked an easy question, or a difficult question based on random selection, and the lack of opportunities to talk can make it difficult to effectively gauge the abilities of a student.


4. Mock tests

A mock test is designed to simulate the authentic experience of an actual examination. It follows the rules and format of the actual exam and has the same time limit and types of questions included as the actual exam. Mock tests can be used as a tool to help students prepare for their upcoming university exams by allowing them to practice and experience what it will be like to take the actual exam.


  • Gives an idea of the progress made by students.
  • Allows students to get an idea of how their exam-day may go.
  • Helps students improve their confidence before the exam.


Despite the benefits offered by this type of exam, many students may find mock tests a little overwhelming. Over-testing should also be avoided as it can not only bore students but may also reduce their enthusiasm.


5. Multiple-choice exams

This is one of the least subjective types of exams. A multiple-choice exam may include various types of questions, including true or false, fill the gaps, indicate the correct answer, etc. Multiple-choice exams are a popular way of assessing students and are widely used across academic institutions.


  • Reduces the chance of subjective grading with pre-determined answers.
  • Assesses students on a wide range of subjects and topics.


Multiple-choice exams may also encourage guesswork and memorizing instead of understanding.


6. Open-book exams 

In closed-book exams, students are not allowed to bring any resources to the examination. However, in open-book exams, students can bring certain approved resources to the exam for support. This includes notes, textbooks, journal articles, etc. In some cases, students may even be provided with the question paper in advance.


  • Awards significant and well-done preparation by students.
  • Allows teachers to create a complex examination paper.


Open-book exams take a lot of time to grade and require significantly more preparation on the student’s part. There is more room for error in cases where a student researches the wrong points.


7. Placement tests

Several universities choose to determine the skills and level of knowledge of students before the beginning of a course or module. These exams are different from entrance exams. The score on placement tests is used to assign a class level to students.


  • Helps determine the readiness of students for university-level coursework.
  • Results can help tailor course placement for students based on their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Provides students with an equal chance to prove their abilities, regardless of their background.


Students tend to be successful when they are presented with opportunities, while remedial classes are known for increasing the chances of students dropping out.


8. Proficiency tests 

Language proficiency tests, like TOEFL or IELTS, are generally conducted outside of a university and are often a requirement for getting admission into a university. These tests evaluate the speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills of students.


  • Allows evaluators to gauge students’ skills and progress.
  • Provides universities with important insights into the student’s capabilities and communication skills.


For many students, proficiency tests may turn out to be very time-consuming and stressful, especially when they do not know how they can improve their skills.


9. Closed book exams

Without access to reference materials

Closed book exams assess students’ ability to recall and apply knowledge from memory. These exams evaluate theoretical concepts, definitions, and problem-solving techniques that students apply.


  • Allows evaluators to assess students’ proficiency in certain fields without referring to textbooks, notes, or online resources.
  • Focuses on students’ ability to recall information under exam conditions.


Closed book exams are designed to test a student’s memorization, understanding, and ability to apply knowledge without any external aids. The main challenge in administering these exams digitally is ensuring that students do not access unauthorized resources.

With access to reference materials

These exams allow students to use specified reference materials provided by the professor or brought by the students themselves. They test the ability to apply theoretical knowledge practically.

Reference material provided by the professor


  • Allows a controlled environment with resources offered by the professor.
  • Emphasis the student’s ability to utilize given resources to solve problems or analyze situations.


It is challenging to ensure that students use only the material provided by the professor and nothing beyond that.

Reference material brought by students


Analyzes students’ ability to effectively utilize their study materials, such as textbooks, notes, and slides, to solve problems and offer valuable answers.


Managing the diversity of materials students might bring and ensuring they do not exceed the permitted resources is a challenge.

With access to certain software for analysis/simulation

These exams are often used in technical and scientific disciplines where students must demonstrate their ability to analyze data or simulation scenarios while utilizing specific software tools.


  • Allows the use of designated software tools necessary to evaluate knowledge efficiency in a specific field.
  • Evaluates the ability to perform tasks using the software, reflecting real-world applications.


It is imperative to ensure students utilize allowed software and that their journey of using the integrated software is mapped.


How Mercer | Mettl can help

Mercer | Mettl Secure Browser is a cheat-proof lockdown browser that allows you to conduct integral and secure online examinations. It disables access to unauthorized software, tools, and devices. Test-takers are not able to navigate from the test window during the examinations, except for safe-listed applications, as allowed by the evaluator.

The Mercer | Mettl Secure Browser helps conduct secure online examinations by offering:

  • Browser lockdown: Prevents students from accessing other applications, websites, or documents during the exam.
  • Disabled actions: Disables access to external ports, drives, or other type of connections. It also disables cut, copy, paste, print, recording, and screen grab commands.
  • Secure access: Allows access to specific files or resources that are safe-listed by the evaluator.
  • Controlled environment: Professors can upload reference materials directly to the platform, ensuring uniform access for all students.
  • Document sharing: Facilitates the distribution of case studies, research papers, or any other relevant documents securely.



1. What are the different modes of examinations?

Originally published July 11 2024, Updated July 11 2024

Written by

Vaishali has been working as a content creator at Mercer | Mettl since 2022. Her deep understanding and hands-on experience in curating content for education and B2B companies help her find innovative solutions for key business content requirements. She uses her expertise, creative writing style, and industry knowledge to improve brand communications.

About This Topic

Online examination, also known as virtual examination, is conducted remotely on a computer with high-speed internet. Like a classroom exam, it is time-bound and usually supervised through a webcam and proctor, making it cheating-free, secure and easily scalable.

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