Numbas for formative and summative online assessment

Christian Lawson-Perfect

Newcastle University


An open-source e-assessment system designed for mathematical subjects.

Developed at Newcastle University for ~10 years.

Used around the world.

How it works

  • Write questions in the editor
  • Deliver them to students
  • Students answer questions, get immediate feedback
  • Scores come back to your VLE

Important features

  • Ease of use
  • Randomisation
  • Automatic marking
  • Maths

Question types

  • Mathematical expression
  • Number
  • Matrix
  • Various kinds of multiple choice
  • Short text
  • Make your own

What you need

For formative use: point students at Numbas exams. It all runs in their browser.

For summative use: LTI tool, locked browser (e.g.

Our use pre-Covid

Large banks of practice material.

In-course assessment: open for one week, worth 1-5% of module.

Some labs.

One or two invigilated, final exams.

Our use in lock-down

Final exams for all stage 1 maths modules, as well as large service courses.

Exams open for three weeks, unlimited attempts, pass/fail.

~1,000 simultaneous connections on day 1.

How to do it

  • Large question-writing team.
  • Think creatively about assessing hard topics.
  • Check everything very thoroughly in advance.
  • Don’t assume the worst of students.


Numbas homepage:


How Numbas can help during the COVID-19 crisis:

E-Assessment in Mathematical Sciences 2020: