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Add Answer Boxes Using Acrobat Pro

Adobe Acrobat is a family of software to view, create, manipulate, print and manage files in Portable Document Format (PDF).

The family comprises of:

  • Adobe Acrobat Reader (Adobe Reader)
  • Adobe Acrobat Professional (Acrobat Pro)

To insert answer boxes you need Adobe Acrobat Professional (£60 per licence with educational discount) or another PDF editor such as:

You can download a 30 trial version of Acrobat Pro or you can buy it from Academia or Pugh Computers for about £60 for a single user licence. This is a significant educational discount - the full price is about £430.

The latest version of Adobe Reader DC also has an option to buy the functionality of add answer boxes on line - this costs about £140 per year, so a single one-off licence for Acrobat Pro with the educational discount is much better value.

 

To Start: Open the Forms Toolbar

We will be using Acrobat Pro X or XI.

Open your 'raw' PDF assessment with Acrobat Pro. To add answer boxes (Adobe call them 'Form Fields') you need to have the Forms toolbar on screen.

To do this:

  • click on Tools > Forms > Edit.
  • Click 'No' when Acrobat asks you if you want it to 'detect form fields for you'.

Acrobat can detect and insert answer boxes automatically but it's often more trouble than it's worth (see the bottom of this page for info).

 

Adding 'Text' Answer Boxes

  1. Click on the 'Add Text Field' button in the Forms toolbar;
  2. Move the cursor (and hence the text field) to where you want it placed;
  3. Click to drop your first text field.
  4. Before you draw any more text fields, set the 'Default Properties' (see below).

Properties

Click 'All Properties' in the dialog box, or double click on the answer box to open the Properties.

1. General tab

Acrobat Pro gives each new answer box a name when you draw it - Text1, Text2 etc.
It's good practice, but not always essential, to change the name to match the question (e.g. 1(a), 1(b) etc).

If you are creating a paper for a visually impaired student who uses screen reading technology, it is vital to give the field a meaningful name (e.g. Question 1a) and also to copy this name to the 'Tooltip' field.

2. Appearance tab

  1. Set the 'Border color' to red.
  2. The 'Fill color' should normaly be transparent, i.e. 'No Color'.
  3. Set the 'Font Size' to be 'Auto'.

3. Options tab

  1. Set 'Alignment' for most answer boxes to 'Left', but you may want centre alignment for tables and right for text boxes with calculations.
  2. Tick 'Check Spelling' - if you want the spellchecker;
  3. tick 'Multi-line';
  4. untick 'Scroll long text';
  5. tick 'Comb of X characters' if you need a field that gives a fixed number of digits;
  6. only tick 'Allow Rich Text Formatting' if you are making a paper for maths or science.
  7. Click on 'Close' to dismiss the 'Properties' box.

'Allow Rich Text Formatting' - lets the learners format the text in the answer box and use super and subscripts (e.g. to type x2).
The disadvantage is that the number of lines of text that can be typed is fixed, and so learners cannot type in more lines beyond the size of the box. Most answer boxes should not be rich text formatted because plain text is usually adequate to answer the question, and candidates can type more lines in if they wish, and the text size reduces.

 

Set Current Properties as Defaults

So that all other text boxes you create from now on have the same properties:

  • Now 'right click' on the text box you have just made.
  • Select 'Use Current Properties as New Defaults'.

'Keep tool selected' checkbox

In order to save you constantly clicking the 'Add Text Field' button to add another text field, click on the 'Keep tool selected' checkbox.

This keeps the button pressed and allows you to draw one text box after another by simply clicking on the document.

Hints and Tips

  • Re-size an answer box by clicking and dragging on the blue ‘handles’, and move it by clicking and dragging in the box.
  • To make fine positional adjustments, use the arrow keys on the keyboard to move the box.
  • Delete a box by right-clicking and selecting Delete.
  • To help you draw the boxes the size you want, zoom in to say 200%. Or try turning on View > Snap-to-grid and change the grid size (Edit > Preferences > Units and Guides) to help draw neat boxes.
  • You can align several boxes by drawing round them to select a few, or by clicking on each with the 'CTRL' key held down, then right-click and choose the type of alignment you want.
  • Click on Preview from the toolbar to check how it looks and type in some text. Click Edit to go back to editing and continue adding more boxes.
  • Once you are finished remove any answers you may have added while testing by clicking Forms > Clear forms.

Once you have finished adding your answer boxes, click 'Close Form Editing' at the right hand side of the screen.

 

Adding 'Tick' Answer Boxes

  1. Click on the 'Add Check Box' button in the Forms toolbar;
  2. Move the cursor (and hence the check box) to where you want it placed;
  3. Click to drop your first tick box.
  4. Before you draw any more tick boxes, set the 'Default Properties' (see below).

Properties

Click 'All Properties' in the dialog box, or double click on the answer box to open the Properties.

Under the Appearance tab:

  1. Set the 'Border color' to red.
  2. The 'Fill color' should normaly be transparent, i.e. 'No Color'.
  3. Set the 'Font Size' to be 'Auto'.

 

Set Current Properties as Defaults

So that all other text boxes you create from now on have the same properties:

  • Now 'right click' on the text box you have just made.
  • Select 'Use Current Properties as New Defaults'.

Don't draw sets of tick boxes manually - use the 'Create Multiple Copies' tool (see below).

 

Create multiple copies

Right click on the first tick box you created you and:

  • Choose 'Create Multiple Copies'.
  • Type '4' into the 'Copy selected fields down' field.
  • Type '1' into the 'Copy selected fields across' field.

and you should see four tick boxes inserted below the first one. You can change the size of all the boxes with the Overall size buttons, and you can move all four boxes around with the Up/Down/Left/Right buttons. Note that each of you multiple fields has been given a different name automatically.

Once you have finished adding your answer boxes, click 'Close Form Editing' at the right hand side of the screen.

 

Add bookmarks

It's good practice to add bookmarks to the paper so that learners can see the structure of the paper and navigate using the bookmark panel.

If you used Heading Styles to create the paper in Word, then the PDF should already have bookmarks. If not, you should add them yourself.

In this example we have Section 1 with text:

  1. Click on the blue ribbon icon (left hand pane).
  2. Go to the first page of your document and select the title.
  3. Press 'CTRL-B' - this will create a bookmark for the title of the document.
  4. Go to 'Section 1' and press 'CTRL-B' - this will add a second bookmark for 'Section 1' of the document.
  5. Now select the text for the first question (under 'Section 1') and again press 'CTRL-B' to add a third bookmark.
  6. Repeat for all the questions in the paper.

Set properties

Press 'CTRL-D' to open the Properties and then:

  • Under 'Initial View' tab, set the 'Navigation tab' to 'Bookmarks Panel and Page'.
  • Under the 'Advanced' tab, set the Language to be 'EN-GB'.
  • If you want, go to the 'Security' tab and set a password to prevent the paper being opened or edited.
 

Tag the PDF

In PDF files, structure is expressed via 'Tags'. Tagging the PDF improves the operation of Adobe Reader's 'Read Out Loud' (text-to-speech).

  • Click on 'View' > 'Tools' > 'Accessibility'.
  • Click 'Add Tags to Document'.

Ignore the 'Recognition Report' that appears
- unless you are creating a paper for a blind student using a screen reader.

 

 

Insert text answer boxes automatically

Acrobat can insert answer boxes for you, but this can often be more trouble than drawing them manually.

When you first open Form editing ('Tools' > 'Forms' > 'Edit'):

  • Say 'Yes' when Acrobat asks you 'Do you want Acrobat to detect form fields for you?'.
  • Choose to 'Use an existing file' and click 'Next',
  • then choose 'Use the current document' and click 'Next'.

Acrobat will go through the paper and draw in answer boxes where it thinks you need them. It looks for horizontal lines or boxes on the page (which is why you want to add these when you make your paper with Word).

You can see the forms it has added on each page. Click on 'Highlight Fields' in the top right corner so that you can see the fields that Acrobat has added.

The answer boxes that have been put in automatically don't have a border or colours set,

so change the colours to your preference:

  • Press 'CTRL-A' (shortcut to 'Select All' on the page),
  • then hit 'CTRL-I' which will open the properties for all the answer boxes.
  • Set the properties: red border, no fill, no scroll, etc (as shown previously).

We have found that it doesn't always change all the properties on all the pages, so you should check them all. You can keep the Properties open and click on each box, and change the properties without having to close the Properties each time.

When Acrobat inserts the answer boxes it may miss some, or it may put it boxes where you don't want them, so you need to go through the paper and check and edit them.

 

Help and information

Adobe video tutorials