How to Assess Your Online Students – 8 Effective Strategies

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Online learning has become the new normal. If you are an online educator, chances are that you now have way more students to handle than you did a couple of years ago.

With great power comes great responsibility. Assessing the learning of your students is an essential part of teaching effectively. And it is just as important in an online environment as it is in a traditional setting.

What is Student Assessment?

Student assessment is the process of appraising the abilities, proficiencies, understanding, and achievements of your students. It helps instructors to measure how effective their teaching is by linking performance to specific learning objectives.

The purpose of assessment is to determine whether or not your students have actually achieved the desired level of proficiency of the set learning objectives of a module or course itself. Assessments help you to be aware of areas that students need to improve upon and how your course can be relevant to the student.

Assessments are beyond students’ grades. Rather, they prepare students to face difficulties, reflect, and be aware of what their shortcomings are. They push the students to do better so they can be successful in terms of the learning goals.

Online instructors can assess their students just as effectively as classroom instructors.

Classification of Assessments

Chances are that you have heard of formative and summative assessments. But what do they actually mean? Let’s find out briefly.

1. Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is all about ongoing feedback. The goal of this type of assessment is to monitor your students’ learning to garner ongoing feedback that can be used to improve on your teaching and their learning.

According to Trumbull and Lash (2013), formative assessment refers to tools that identify misconceptions, struggles, and learning gaps along the way and how to close those gaps. Formative assessment includes effective tools for helping to shape learning, and can even bolster students’ learning abilities to take ownership of their learning when they can understand that the goal is to improve learning, not apply final marks.

Common tools for formative assessment include homework, games, quizzes, presentations, research proposals for feedback, projects, and group work activities.

These tools work excellently when you implement them on a regular basis. Creating schedules for them should be put into consideration.

2. Summative Assessment

On the other hand, summative assessment is for evaluation purposes. Summative assessment evaluates the level of learning of your students, their knowledge, and the proficiency gained at the end of a module or course.

Summative assessments are high-stakes in nature. That is because they are more formal and results are more likely to be considered as to how well the students learned. They are usually tracked using grades and the feedback is used to guide efforts and activities in any subsequent courses.

It is essential that the results of summative assessments are not regarded as conclusive, as is often the case.

Examples of summative assessment include periodic tests, exams, final projects, research work, and reports.

Both formative and summative assessments have their place, but should not be over-relied alone. It is essential that you combine both assessment methods together to gain all the insight that you need into the progress of your online students.

When it comes to assessing students learning online, there are many strategies to employ. What you choose to go with depends on you and what you feel will work best.

How to Assess Your Students Online

1. Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions allow learners to express their opinions, thoughts, and feelings on a subject freely, as you assess their knowledge and understanding of a subject.

They push your students to think critically and come up with answers based on your lessons. Students do not have to choose from preset answers. Instead, they apply their cognitive abilities to build responses to the questions in their own words.

The benefits of open-ended questions include allowing your students to express their responses without any help from pre-existing results. Also, it helps to build up active participation on the part of the students.

2. Student Interviews

You can assess the proficiency of your students by conducting online interviews. Online interviews can help in the practical aspect of learning. For instance, for someone learning music, a practical way to know how well the student has mastered what they were taught while learning online is through an online video interview.

You can also use online interviews in cases of a language speaking test for proficiency. The goal is to know how well your students are catching up to your instructions by assessing them personally.

But online interviews can also be used to assess students in groups. You may divide your students into small groups and schedule times for the interview. Your feedback may be immediate and should contain your impression of their progress. You should give your students room to express themselves.

You can either use Skype or Zoom to conduct your student interviews.

3. Quizzes

Quizzes are a pretty common way to assess students online.  A quiz could either be in the form of a fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice format. Either way, it is a great way to engage your students.

Best ways to assess students learning online

A few general tips for quizzes include keeping them short. Short quizzes can be excellent for keeping your students engaged, especially if they are scattered along with your video lectures. The points awarded for quizzes should be just enough to hold your students accountable, but not enough to turn it into a high-stakes assessment.

Also, you may move beyond simple facts or answers. Instead, your questions could be applied questions that stir their thinking. Quizzes can be spontaneous. There’s nothing wrong with pausing a lecture to give a quiz, so you can measure how well your students understand the knowledge that you have been passing across.

4. Online Surveys

With a survey, an instructor can get feedback about how students’ learning experience is. That is, why they do what they did or are doing, and how satisfied are they with online learning.

Best ways to assess students learning online

Surveys work because students can share their thoughts. Also, they don’t have to spend so much time completing them. You can even use an online survey to know what kind of assessment your student will prefer.

To maximize the effect of surveys, do not make the questionnaires too long. Students tend to switch off the longer they get. Also, try to keep the questions interesting and relevant.

5. Drag-and-Drop Assessments

Drag-and-drop assessments make your learning sessions more interactive. It lets you evaluate the ability of your students to link information together. Also, you get to how well they can solve practical problems. Drag-and-drop assessments are quite effective for making your students stop and consider the content at hand.

Best ways to assess students learning online

The questions can either be in text or image or incorporation of both, to make them more engaging. This type of assessment is quite effective when you want your students to be practical and understand how their knowledge applies to real-life experiences.

To create effective drag-and-drop questions, first, determine what your motives are. Then provide clear instructions and feedback. Try not to make the questions that you set too easy or too difficult. It is a low-stakes assessment, after all. You should provide your students with immediate feedback.

6. Peer Evaluation

Peer Evaluation or peer review lets students review and evaluate each other’s work. It allows them to use their knowledge in relation to their colleagues and then give feedback.

That way, the students take the place of their teachers. Peer assessment provides a process for students to critique and provide feedback on each other. They can develop life-long skills in assessing and feedback. It also enhances their learning via knowledge diffusion and the exchange of ideas.

However, the instructor must give a guideline for the students to follow in evaluating each other’s work to avoid prejudice or bias. Guidelines will also ensure the way the review is done is consistent.

The instructor should let the students understand the reasons for the peer evaluation. For more objectivity, the instructor should consider allowing the students to review anonymous assignments.

7. Forums

Forums let you use discussions in engaging learners to think deeply about their course contents. In a forum, students can contribute or express their opinion on the subject matter.

Grading participation in these discussions can be effective for promoting meaningful discussions. Grading stirs up the motivation to join in and participate.

Best ways to assess students learning online

As a teacher or instructor, a forum discussion makes you aware of how well the students understand the subject and how they can adequately answer questions. This type of assessment enhances students’ interactions and conversations with each other.

However, there should be set rules on what to post and not post on the forum. Such rules include respect for one another, no criticism or jesting, no vulgar words or slang and so.

8. Game-Themed Assessments

Game-themed assessments should be fun, serving as motivation in an online learning environment. This could be in form of trivia, for example, that students need to answer in a set amount of time with time limits. There is an infinite number of games that you can use to assess your students.

To assess your students during gameplay, you can question them as they play. Asking probing questions about their decisions and choices can be a valuable means of gathering the formative assessment data that you need.

Game-themed assessments drive your students’ engagement, enhance the competitive spirit, and help you test their non-cognitive skills.


Q: What is assessment?

In relation to learning, assessment is the process of gathering, evaluating, and using the information to draw helpful conclusions about their progress.

Q: Can regular means of assessment be used online?

Yes. An instructor can use the forms of assessment that they are familiar with to assess students online. All that is required are relevant readjustments to make them work for online learning.


Assessments are essential for learning, classroom or online alike. They deserve the same attention and diligence as creating lesson notes.

The goal of learning assessments online is to receive feedback from your students about how they understand your course and how relatable it is to them. They help you gauge the level of proficiency of your students.

Decide what assessments that you think your students will relate to. They should also be able to help you achieve your desired results.

Let me know if this was helpful and check out the best online course topic ideas.

Thanks for reading.