Nine Week Assessment Alternatives

by Kristina Wilson, Jackie Wickham Smith, Christine Scherer, Aaron Bannasch, Daniel Murphy, and Reba-Anna Lee

At Northwestern, our 10 week terms are already fast-paced. So what happens when the term is shortened by a week, and you have only nine weeks to accomplish your goals as an instructor? How do you decide which content to combine, alter, or even remove? This short guide will outline a few strategies you can consider to modify your course activities, assessment, and content to meet students’ needs within a constrained timeframe.

Download a copy of the Nine Week Assessment Alternatives tip sheet.

Pre-Work, Examples, and Best Practices

  • What is pre-work? Pre-work is exactly what you think it is. It is work assigned to students prior to the official start date of a class.The purpose of pre-work is to give students an opportunity to begin their course work prior to the official start date. 
  • Why use pre-work? Assigning pre-work can also be a key strategy when moving a course from a ten week to nine week schedule. It is important that students be given the opportunity to have the time to read, process, and complete course work in a timely manner. It can also help to relieve anxiety students may feel at the change in the quarter.
  • Best Practices for using Pre-work: Pre-work cannot be due before the official start date of the class but should be completed by the first sync session. Pre-work can include completing an introduction discussion post, reading required course material, or  writing a short one page essay about a required reading.

Grading and Time Management

Depending on the strategies you choose, you may find that you have less time to grade at the end of the term. How can you plan to grade efficiently in a compressed timeframe at the end of the term?

  • Keep up during the term. Grade student work consistently beginning at the end of the first week of class; don’t save it all until the end. 
  • Use a rubric. Rubrics are a great way to give students a lot of feedback without having to write a lot of feedback. If you develop a detailed analytic rubric for the final assignment in your course now, you can choose feedback from the different levels later on rather than draft feedback anew.
  • Develop a template. Use a structure for feedback, keeping some components the same while planning to customize other areas. For example, feedback on a final project might start with an acknowledgement of changes made since the draft stage, provide a few points of feedback, and then sign off by thanking the student for a great term. If you’ve taught the course before, you could create a bank of frequently-used grading comments to bring into the template.
  • Block your time and set a timer. If you’ll only have a few days to grade quite a few long projects, hold the time on your calendar now, planning which days you’ll grade and how many assignments you’ll grade each day. Once you’ve blocked your time, stay on schedule by setting a timer as you review each assignment.

Canvas Gradebook Support

Most likely, you will need to make modifications to your Canvas course site to reflect the shortened quarter. You may need to modify, eliminate, or consolidate one or more assignments and adjust the grade weights accordingly.

The Teaching & Learning Technologies group within Northwestern IT offers a schedule of facilitated workshops covering the Canvas gradebook, quizzes and exams, among other topics. See the Canvas Workshops page for details.

One-on-One Consultations with Distance Learning

If you would like to meet one-on-one with a member of the SPS Distance Learning Team to discuss options for updating your course, please use our Bookings page to schedule a 30 minute appointment. Your consultant will reach out to you after you schedule to provide a Zoom link for the meeting. 


By taking a look at the “big picture” of your course, a strategy to adjust the ten week course to fit into a nine week time frame may become obvious. Here are four strategies you might consider: 

Adjusting Scaffolded Projects

Scaffolded projects are often interwoven throughout the course with smaller assignments that culminate in a final project or paper. When thinking about how to compensate for the change in the number of weeks in the quarter.

  • Start the project earlier: Students can choose research questions during pre-work.  Have it due the end of week one and explain the reasoning and guidelines on what you want students to consider.
  • Additional Presentation options: Adjust how the project is presented. For example, have students pre-record their presentations rather than have synchronous, live presentations. Feedback can be presented asynchronously as well. 
  • Combine assignments: Combine scaffolded assignments. For example, combine the research question or project topic with a project outline,  or combine the final draft with the final completed project.

Combining Weeks

In many ten week courses, either Week 1 or Week 10 is a “light” week–a week that includes less reading and minimal deliverables. Consider combining either Weeks 1 and 2 or Weeks 9 and 10, if Weeks 1 or 10 in your course follow this pattern. 

You or the person who designed your course may also have chosen to incorporate a lighter week at another point in the course or have spread one topic out over two weeks. Before electing to combine two weeks of your course, review your resource list and assessment strategy and consider the impact on both student and instructor time. 

Eliminating a Week

Eliminating a week of content that seems less important may seem like an easy solution.  However, the choice to eliminate a week of your course entirely should be made with careful consideration. Your weekly learning objectives support your course learning objectives, which support program-level objectives, so removing a week of your course could have a ripple effect on what students accomplish on a larger scale. 

This option may not be appropriate if your course is intended to survey a field or is a prerequisite for other courses in the program.

This option may be appropriate if you have already planned “work weeks” in your course, in which you do not introduce new content but allow students additional time to conduct research, collaborate in teams, or revise a draft. If you choose this option, be sure to check that the weekly learning objectives are already represented in other weeks of the course. 

Reworking Assignments

When eliminating an assignment isn’t possible, you may be able to reduce the amount of time students spend completing an assignment by reworking it into a different type of activity. If an assignment was previously something you did in a synchronous format with an entire class, consider switching it to a shorter, active learning activity with small groups. Or a group assignment could function as a smaller individual assignment or even an automatically graded quiz. 

By eliminating the need for students to coordinate schedules for group projects and by making grading automatic through multiple choice questions, you can make shorter due dates and give students more rapid feedback. Since a shorter quarter shouldn’t compromise student-to-student interaction, consider adding peer review to assignments or encouraging study groups. This can save you time grading, support peer learning, and can build trust and community by giving students more opportunities to socialize around coursework.

For examples of how to add small group active learning to your synchronous class meetings, check out resources from Vanderbilt, University of Central Florida, and Columbia

When possible, supplement assignment instructions or lecture materials with external resources (or create your own) to guide students through what would have otherwise been an instructor-lead exposition. For example, the SPS Learning Studios cover topics like grammar, coding, research, statistics, and more. You can also reach out to the library for program guides and other field-specific resources.