Alternative Projects for Final Exams

Using projects as final assessments has been shown to increase student motivation and to help shift the focus of a course to the skills students need to successfully persist in the field.
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

While quizzes, tests, and exams hold an important place in the university classroom, alternative projects do too. Projects are especially useful when any kind of practical skill is taught in the class, as they provide an avenue for “[demonstrating] proficiency rather than measuring knowledge” [1].

The Benefits

Alternative assessments, if well designed, enable students to engage in (and instructors to assess) multiple levels of cognition in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives. Using assessments that prompt the learner towards the Analyze, Evaluate, and Create levels has been shown to lead to deeper learning amongst students. Such activities also prime students for a greater variety of professional and life activities [2].

Project-based assessments have also been shown to increase student motivation [2] and to shift the focus from learning what will prepare students to do well in class to the skills needed to successfully persist in the field [4]. This shift from measuring proficiency rather than “measuring knowledge” [5] supports two essential elements of the liberal arts and sciences: critical thinking and problem-solving.

Projects that are built with several cumulative stages also help to provide students with lower-stakes steps towards achieving the Create level. While assessment projects can easily focus on the Remember and Understand stages, a project that’s scaffolded over several weeks can let students work up to a more analytical or creative end product. 

Some Examples

With all these considerations in mind, what forms might such projects take in your course? See below for some examples of projects sorted by each Bloom’s Taxonomy level.

Cognitive Process Level



  • Poster in a poster session (with or without peer critique)
  • Portfolio
  • Slide presentation
  • Experience reflection paper


  • Explanation of a poll or quiz answer*
  • Using provided terms in a meaningful paragraph
  • Short-answer exam
  • Infographic explaining something
  • Write a song explaining something


  • Annotated bibliography
  • Annotated anthology
  • Literature review
  • Executive summary
  • Grant proposal
  • Scientific abstract
  • Perform a lab
  • Solve given equations


  • Analysis and response to a case study
  • Analysis of data or a graph
  • Critical theory paper


  • Chart, graph or diagram with explanation
  • Debate
  • Rebuttal to a published article
  • Infographic arguing a particular stance
  • Research project


  • Advertisement
  • Create materials and teach a class session on a given topic
  • Diary entry for a character
  • Performance
  • Write code to perform a task or function
  • Poem, play, or dialogue
  • Web page or video
  • Newspaper article or editorial

For a slightly more detailed version of what a few of these projects might entail, take a look at the following descriptions. These are, of course, only starting points. 



Explanation of a poll or quiz answer

Students explain in a separate writing assignment why the answer they chose is correct, or why the alternative answers are incorrect

Annotated Anthology

Students compile selected works into a thematic anthology (minus the copyrighted works themselves); students determine the theme, compile the works (or placeholders), and introduce each of the works in their own words [6]

Grant proposal

Students apply their knowledge of the topic and terminology by creating a mock research proposal for a granting agency

Choosing a Project for Your Course

When considering what project to use as a major assessment in your course, it may be useful to answer the following questions. These questions are very similar to those you might ask when creating traditional exam questions, but may help you focus more on the specific behavior and process that you want to assess in your students.

1. What would a successful student be able to do?

For example, should students be able to demonstrate an increasingly sophisticated understanding of a topic, over time? Should they be able to perform a particular set of actions to a specific standard?

2. How can I measure that behavior, knowledge, or activity?

For understanding over time, perhaps you could collect multiple examples of their thoughts over the term; this suggests a portfolio project of some kind. For actions to a given standard, perhaps you could observe a live or recorded performance of those actions at the end of term.

3. Do you wish to assess the end product from a student, or the process used to produce the product?

The answer to this question will affect how and what you grade. If it’s the end product, then only a final submission should be assessed for a grade; intermediate steps should only be scored to give feedback on student progress. If it’s the process, then make sure you ask for things that will show students’ metacognitive progress and grade those, rather than a final submission.

4. What are you assessing (technology skills, communication skills, collaboration, performance under stress) and what is it not important to assess (stress management skills, technology skills, communication skills)?

This answer will affect both how you grade and how you structure the project. For example, if technology skills are not an object of assessment, then the “polish” level of a video essay should not be assessed. If communication skills are an object of assessment, make sure there are opportunities to demonstrate them--for example, ask for a reflective summary of a portfolio, as well as the constitutive assignments. If stress management is not an important skill to assess, consider leaving out any timed activities.

5. What resources will students need to demonstrate the desired behavior, knowledge, or activity?

The answer to this question can help you decide both what is a feasible project, given University and College resources, and also what instructions or tutorials you may need to provide. If you choose a portfolio project, Canvas has two tools to choose from, Folio or ePortfolios. Once you decide which to use, make sure you provide students with clear guidelines and links to the how-to documents for each.

As David Gooblar notes in The Chronicle of Higher Education [7], “for most students, we need to shift our focus from what it is we say to what it is they do.” By making students active participants in the demonstration of their knowledge, we will create more memorable learning experiences with longer-lasting experiential impact.

To explore some of the many tools that can support project-based learning, visit our Audio, Visual, & Graphic Design Tools and Instructional Tools pages. You may also want to take a look at our Equipment For Loan listing. If you are unsure whether the kind of tool you want is available, please contact us. We’ll be glad to help you explore!

If you’d like assistance, or simply a sounding-board, as you explore possible projects for your course, please feel free to contact the or request a consultation here.


Resources and Further Reading

[1] Indiana University Bloomington, Alternatives to Traditional Exams and Papers (2020)

[2] Journal of the Medical Library Association, Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Learning Objectives (2015)

[3] Vanderbilt University, Bloom’s Taxonomy (2020)

[4] Ryerson University, Best Practices in Alternative Assessments (2018)

[5] Brigham Young University, Using Alternative Assessments (2020)

[6] University of California Berkley, Alternatives to Traditional Testing (2020)

[7] The Chronicle of Higher Education, Your Students Learn by Doing, Not by Listening (2018)


Release Date: 10/15/2020
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services