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Penn Foster FAQs

Penn Foster Exams and Grading Explained

If you’re new to online school or just want to know how Penn Foster works before enrolling in a program, you may be wondering how, exactly, do online tests work? What are the expectations and how is your work graded? Here’s everything you need to know about Penn Foster exams, proctored exams, and how your tests and assignments are graded.

Desiree Sinkevich

Des Sinkevich

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Here’s everything you need to know about Penn Foster exams, proctored exams, and how your tests and assignments are graded.

How do you take exams in an online school?

Taking tests in online classes isn’t that different from taking exams at in-person schools! You need to put in the study time, review your notes, and make sure you’re prepared before you start your exam. Unlike an in-person, classroom setting, however, you can take your exams whenever you’re ready – no scheduled test dates. That means if you’re not feeling confident you’ve got a handle on the subject you studied, you have plenty of time to reread your study guides and notes and really prepare to ace that exam. On the other hand, if you feel like you know your stuff and don’t need extra study time, you don’t have to wait for a test date to jump in and take the exam!

No matter what Penn Foster program you’re working on, the majority of your tests will be short, multiple-choice exams that you’ll take after each lesson. Most classes have about 2-6 lessons each.

Check out this video to learn more about taking exams at Penn Foster!

Does Penn Foster have final exams?

Penn Foster’s online programs don’t have what you’d traditionally consider “final exams.” In fact, career diploma programs and our high school diploma don’t have any “finals” at all! As long as you’ve passed your courses, you’re set to graduate. However, for college-level programs like undergraduate certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees, you will take something called proctored exams. These exams act like finals for classes in each semester, or at the end of a college certificate course.

How do proctored exams work?

For many of your online college classes, you’ll have a longer exam you need to take before you can move on to your next semester. Proctored exams are timed, monitored tests that can be a mix of multiple choice, short answer, and short essay questions to test what you learned throughout the class. You won’t have to take a proctored exam for every class in your semester, so it’s not as overwhelming as finals week in a traditional college setting! However, depending on the degree program you’re enrolled in, you may have at least two proctored exams each semester.

Proctored exams can be completed two ways:

  1. Through the mail. If you’re someone who prefers paper and pencil when you’re taking longer tests, completing your proctored exams through the mail can be a good fit for you. To take these exams in person, you’ll need to choose a person to be your proctor and administer the exam to you. A proctor can be a friend or coworker, but can’t be a relative, boss, partner, or live at the same address as you do. Whomever you choose as your proctor will need to have at least an associate degree – it doesn't matter in what subject – to qualify. Once you’ve chosen a proctor, you’ll submit the proctor form to the school for approval. When it comes time for your exams, we’ll mail them out to your proctor and they’ll set up a time with you to sit down and take the test. Once you’ve finished your test, the proctor will then mail it back to us for grading. The downside to choosing the mail-in option for these exams is that it can take quite a while to get the exam, send it back, and receive your grade. Generally, it can take about 14 business days to get to your proctor, 14 business days to get back to us in the mail, and as long as three weeks to be graded. This can mean you’ll have a longer period of time before you can move on to your next semester.
  2. Online. Most of our proctored exams can be taken online! They still have the same format as paper proctored exams – short answer, short essay, and multiple-choice questions – but you’re able to complete them at home. Instead of having to choose a proctor, you’ll use a third-party service that monitors the exams, usually through video format. Once you’ve completed your exam, the test and the video recording are submitted for review and then graded. This is a much faster process, so exams can possibly be graded in as short a time as one week.

How do grades work at Penn Foster?

We use a number-letter system of grading for all Penn Foster programs. Completed exams and assignments will receive a number grade and then, once the class is completed, you’ll be assigned a letter grade for the whole course. Passing grades and grading in general works a little bit differently depending on what type of program you’re taking.

  • High school grading. In online high school classes, 65 is considered the minimum passing grade and is equivalent to a letter grade of D.
  • Career program grading. Similar to high school grading, you’ll generally need a minimum grade of 65 to pass your exams and classes. However, some career programs and certificates require that you earn at least a 70 to pass the overall program.
  • College-level grading. Grading for college-level courses is a little more complicated! We still use the number-letter system, so you’ll receive number grades for your exams and assignments, including any proctored exams you need to take. The letter grade for each course is calculated by counting the average of your lesson exam grades as two-thirds of the course grade and the proctored examination grade as one-third. Letter grades are then converted into a quality point average, or QPA, ranging from 0 to 4.0, with a 4.0 being the best. To pass your exams and earn your degree, you need at least a 70 in your classes and an overall QPA of 2.0.

What happens if I fail an exam or class?

Not every subject will come as easily to you as others, so it’s not expected that you’ll earn perfect grades on every exam and assignment, and that’s okay! If you fail an exam within your program – or even if you’re not satisfied with your grade and know you can do better – you'll have the opportunity to retake that exam within 30 days. After you retake an exam, we honor whatever your highest grade was, so for example, if you took a test and got a 70 then retake it and get a 90, 90 is your final grade for that lesson.

If you fail a class, you may have to retake the class over again to graduate. Usually, you’ll retake any failed courses at the end of your program.

How to be successful in online classes

Since Penn Foster is completely online and self-paced, there’s plenty of flexibility that allows you to be successful in your courses. You can study at the pace that works best for you and take exams only when you’re ready, ensuring you’ve got the tools you need to pass your classes. However, some things can help set you up for success in your program from day one including:

  • Setting a schedule. Even though your courses are self-paced, setting a goal and creating a study schedule can help you better absorb what you learn and keep you on track toward graduation. When you first get started, consider when you’d like to have your diploma or degree completed by. Then, consider how much time you realistically will have to study, whether that’s 15 minutes a day or three hours per week. From there, you can create a clear schedule that can help you manage your time and expectations.
  • Having a dedicated study space. While you can take your classes and studying anywhere you go, having a dedicated study space can help you focus on what you’re learning.
  • Using Penn Foster resources. You’re not alone when you’re studying online! If you’re stuck or need help, we’ve got several resources to get you through your program including our Learning Resource Center and our dedicated instructors!

We’re here to help you succeed

Whether you have questions about a grade you received, don’t quite understand the material you’re learning, or just need a little help to stay motivated, we’re here for you! Our dedicated instructors and academic advocates are available to help you through course-specific problems by phone, email, or through your Learner Center. You can also set up appointments to speak one-on-one with an instructor! Besides our supportive staff, you can get peer support and encouragement through our Student Community, where you can connect with alumni and other students currently working on the same program as you are.

If you haven’t enrolled in a Penn Foster program and want to know more, or aren’t sure where to get started, reach out to our Admissions Specialists today at 1-888-427-6500!

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