Preparing for online exams

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Many universities are replacing exams with remote assessments. Here are some ideas on how you can prepare for them.

Getting started

Exams will be taken at your place of residence and most will be open book so you will be able to consult sources to answer questions. There is some important information you need to know before preparing for the exam:
  • What type of questions will the exam contain?
    (e.g. multiple choice, long answer questions (LAQs) calculations)
  • How many questions will I have to answer?
  • Will questions or topics be given before the exam?
  • When will the questions be released?
  • How long will the exam last?
    (some online exams are 2 to 3 hours long, others allow a longer period of time)
  • Is there a word limit for each answer?
  • Do I need to provide a reference list?
  • When and how will I submit the answers?

Institutions should ensure that these details are clear but you should contact your department if in doubt. It might be useful to tabulate this information for each of your exams:

Preparing for take-home exams

If memorising information is not your strength, an open book exam gives you an opportunity to do well. But to excel, it is still necessary to understand the course material and prepare thoroughly. You shouldn't radically change your revision strategy, but in many cases, the emphasis moves from memorisation to the creation of accessible sources or notes. Here are some ideas for doing this.

Preparing core texts for quick referencing

Scan a key textbook for the most relevant information and mark the appropriate pages in the text with labels that stick out from the body of the book. Key information on each page can also be highlighted.

Create an alphabetical and thematic index of a core text

Labels used in preparing textbooks can have key words written on them. However, to reinforce knowledge you can create an index of the key information. In this strategy, the labels are numbered and an index that cross references the numbers is created on a separate sheet of paper.

The index can be alphabetical or thematic. Making an alphabetical index will help you quickly identify and locate key points in the text. Making a thematic index (where numbered references to the text are grouped according to common themes or topics) will help you think about applying information in relation to a specific question. If you create an index digitally, print it out in preparation for the exam.

Spatial or visual notes

Make spatial notes (notes arranged over the page) on an A3 sheet. Note only key information (e.g. quotes, research, case studies, formulas). This strategy is particularly useful when you are revising a specific topic and you can arrange and group information in an order that suits your needs. Your notes will look like individual posters (avoid generic looking mind-maps). Keep notes on one side of the sheet so you can easily access more than one source. Display the notes on the walls of your room.

Create information templates

Flash cards tend to contain a small amount of key information and can be useful in an open book exam only if you can go through them quickly and find what you need. Putting information into a prepared template can make it more accessible and you can gather more notes under relevant headings. An example is the template for making key revision notes which you can download from the website here.

Submitting your paper

If you are given a longer period of time to submit a paper, make sure you are ready at least one hour before the deadline just in case you have any technical problems. If your internet connection fails, don't panic. Complete your answer and take a picture of it or scan it using a free scanner app (like ScanCammer). Submit your paper when your internet connection is restored and submit the scanned copy to your department if they need evidence that you completed the exam on time.

This article is written by Peter LIa, author of Simplify Your Study.