Screenshot of the Concordia University exams platform COLE Concordia OnLine Exams showcasing the dashboard and three practice exams

Concordia University level-up with online exams

Concordia engaged Catalyst IT to level-up from traditional paper-based exams to an online assessment platform called COLE.



Concordia University (CU)(external link) is a comprehensive university in Montreal, the largest city in Québec, Canada. Concordia University is committed to innovation and excellence in education, research, creative activity and community partnerships.


CU offers 300 undergraduate programmes, 195 graduate programmes, diplomas and certificates, and 40 postgraduate programmes. Its Faculty of Fine Arts is one of the largest in Canada.


CU supports its 45,000 students and over 2,000 full and part-time staff through online learning via its Moodle LMS. As well as maintaining a high level of educational delivery standards, the shift from traditional in-person paper-based exams to an online assessment platform was a massive organisational change to manage on an aggressive timeline.




As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Canada and the lockdown began in March, Concordia University decided to move to online delivery of high-stakes exams. This project went from initial discussions to being ready for initial exam delivery in eight weeks.


Concordia needed a solution to ensure the continuation of high-stakes assessment delivery and to finish the academic year on time. A digital assessment solution was a considerable challenge to overcome during the pandemic. Concordia like other top-tier institutions, was still delivering a lot of in-person paper-based exams.


Concordia needed a reliable and secure online assessment solution along with a Tier 1 hotline support system during exams.


Concordia also required assistance in transforming and ingesting the upcoming exams into a digital format to fit the platform.




The Concordia exam delivery platform launched as COLE(external link) – Concordia OnLine Exams. COLE prioritises student success with:


  • ease of navigation,

  • a user-friendly dashboard,

  • and a high level of student exam support services.


COLE is the latest addition to the university’s suite of online education tools.


Using automated grading workflows has many advantages – examinations can be generated faster and more frequently if required. Tutors can give much more immediate feedback on examinations and are not required to decipher individual handwriting styles. As not all COLE grading is automated, the academic staff now spend their marking time more efficiently.


With COLE, grades are recorded automatically so it is easier for faculty members working as a team to:

  • interact,

  • analyse the student data,

  • and add insights and assessments.


Institutions can now deliver high-stakes exams to global candidates as there are no restrictions to running an exam in a dedicated physical test location.


Because students are already familiar with online learning, the transition to online assessment is a natural progression. Plus, it is easy to adapt online assessments to cater for students of all needs and allocate extra time for students with special considerations or requirements.


Students and faculty can easily access the exam site using the same username and password they use to log in to other University systems. Practice tests are available so students and staff can familiarise themselves with the exam process prior to live high-stakes exams.

COLE features an intuitive user experience, including:


  • a split-screen function to keep questions in view while answering,

  • an “Unsure” flag for easy review of questions before submission,

  • an auto-save of text answers every 15 seconds

  • a live timer,

  • an equation editor,

  • and a summary page allowing students to review the exam.


For faculty, COLE eases the role of the teaching corps with options to save time and ease the pressure. These feature the division and distribution of grading of work across teaching assistants and professors and an auto-grade function for multiple-choice questions. COLE administrated the majority of final, summative and midterm exams for the summer and winter 2020 terms. By Oct 2020, COLE delivered 25,000 high-stakes exam sittings, with 30-40 each week during busy periods.


COLE – Concordia OnLine Exams

COLE prioritises student success with ease of navigation, a user-friendly dashboard and a high level of student exam support services. COLE is the latest addition to the university’s suite of online education tools.


COLE features an intuitive user experience

A split-screen function keeps questions in view while answering, an “Unsure” flag for easy review of questions before submission, and an autosave of text answers every 15 seconds. There is also a live timer and equation editor.

"We’re impressed with its user-friendly design that addresses the needs of students and faculty."

- Sandra Gabriele, Vice-provost of Innovation in Teaching and Learning, Concordia University