Student Adoption of ExamSoft Features During an Exam: Helpful Hints

August 13, 2015 Sherri Ward

Prior to the students taking their first test in ExamSoft, they are asked to take a Mock Practice Exam in the classroom setting of around ten questions to provide them with an opportunity to experience the testing platform. This also ensures that each student has established their account well in advance of them taking their first exam in the course. We have identified that doing this in the classroom as a group and working through one question at a time gives faculty an opportunity to educate students about the testing platform. Included in this mock exam are question types frequently used such as multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, matching, and select-all-that-apply. Throughout the mock-exam process, faculty explain various features that are available to the students while testing. Unfortunately, the students do not seem to retain this information or take advantage of these features as they move through their course exams. Anything available to students that might help improve their test scores should be encouraged so identifying strategies to overcome the lack of utilizing available features is important.

Trying to teach students about features during an exam can be disruptive. To prevent interruption and aide in adoption of features, try ‘Helpful Hints’. Using a consistent icon to signify this message will hopefully establish a behavior in the students to take a few seconds to stop and read the message for their personal benefit and they will learn to look for this icon before raising their hand for assistance when maneuvering through an exam. We must be careful not to overwhelm students who are already anxious about taking an exam, so minimizing the number of hints used is necessary.

In the Junior class of nursing students during their first course of Health Assessment, the matching question type is used for testing knowledge related to common abbreviations. Students were using their scrap paper and writing out each answer option to track which answers had been used. Adding a message such as, “Helpful Hint: Use the highlighting feature (icon above) to signify when an answer is used” can save them time and potential for error. We also encourage the students to use the highlighting feature to signify key words in the question stem to guide them in selecting an answer.


Adding a picture to the question stem is a common testing method in this type of course. The field containing the question and picture is small and students tend to scroll up and down to try and take in all of the information. Just beneath the question field are dots (…..) and using the mouse to click on and drag these dots allows the student to increase the size of this field. Adding a message such as, “Helpful Hint: Click and drag the dots at the bottom center of this box to make the field larger for viewing” is a good way to educate them about this feature. There is also an option in ExamSoft to add the picture as an attachment that will pop up when the question is opened. This box can be expanded as well and students are well versed in doing this in other applications so a message such as, “Helpful Hint: Drag the corners to expand the size of the picture” is a friendly reminder this feature is also available in SofTest.


As the students work through the exam, perhaps contained within one of the first ten questions a message such as, “Helpful Hint: Use the Navigation (Nav) feature in the menu > to flag a question you want to revisit.” Another message somewhere within the exam could say, “Helpful Hint: Use the Navigation (Nav) feature in the menu > to ensure “Yes” you have answered a question.” It is always good to know, “Helpful Hint: In the menu >, click in the box next to the number of the question you want to revisit for quicker access.” The students tend to scroll through every question to get to a flagged question and this presents the chance they will review and change answers which should be avoided since it is proven that changing answers will increase the odds they will get the question wrong.


Using the fill-in-the-blank question type is a great way to test the students on calculations. However, the students always want to know how their answer should be displayed. Adding a message to the question that says, “Helpful Hint: Type your answer using the number only. Use the calculator (Cal) available in the menu >.” or “Helpful Hint: Type your answer to include the number and unit of measure.” We assure students that all fill-in-the-blank answers are reviewed for variances that are correct answers but they still worry about the formatting of the answer.


Another feature the students do not use but is available to them is the ability to increase the font size of the question and answers. A message that states, “Helpful Hint: Use the Larger/Smaller icon at the top of the page to enlarge the font size of the question and answers” might allow the student to sit back in the chair and get in a more comfortable position and decrease anxiety. They can also use the Reset icon to return to the original font size.


When setting up an exam, ExamSoft allows you to establish that the student will receive an alarm of the time remaining on the exam. SofTest allows the student to set a different alarm should they choose. Perhaps halfway through the exam you can add, “Helpful Hint: You will receive a message 5 minutes prior to the end of available exam time. If you would like an additional alarm, use the Alarm feature in the menu > to set an additional reminder.”


Students are always worried when they get to the end of an exam that they have forgotten something or will do something wrong. On the last question try, “Helpful Hint: Look at the Nav menu > to ensure you have answered every question.” Perhaps they might be worried about what to do next, “Helpful Hint: Are you finished taking your exam? Click on the Exit/Save icon at the top to submit your test for grading.” There are always several students who click through the Exam Results pop-up box containing their grade, “Helpful Hint: Don’t forget that your grade will be in the Exam Results pop-up box after you confirm you want to submit your exam for grading.” Another important reminder, “Helpful Hint: Be sure to read the Rationale at the bottom of each question during test review.”


Students schooled on using various SofTest features respond in a positive manner to having ‘helpful hints’ throughout the exam. Using established hints on the mock exam and then again on various questions throughout the first couple of exams would be most beneficial to establish a behavior. Perhaps it would help with adoption if hints are used anytime a new question type is used or reuse previous hints on exams if students are identified as having moved away from utilizing helpful features.


About the Author

Sherri Ward

Sherri Ward, MNSc, RN, is a Clinical Instructor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Nursing Baccalaureate Program. Prior to accepting her first position as faculty in nursing education, she worked at Arkansas Children's Hospital for 18 years, 5 of those in Nursing Informatics training, testing, building, implementing, and supporting electronic health records projects.

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