Preparation for online exams

Study guide

The following guidance is designed to help you prepare for various types of online exams. You will be informed well in advance of the kind of exam to expect and this will help you to prepare appropriately.

Word Preparation for online exams, printer-friendly version (Word, 47 KB)

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Study guide table of contents:

access to resources | preparing for the exam | sitting the exam: exam environment | managing your time

What resources and tools can you use?

Included in the information you receive about your exams will be guidance on whether you should use your notes, a specific textbook or article, resources from a limited reading list etc. You may be expected to use certain tools such as statistical or graphical software. This means you will need to consider the following kinds of questions.

Does being off-campus restrict your ability to access any resources or tools?

This may have been accounted for by the lecturers setting the exam, and many resources are now available online, but if you have concerns about this, you should raise them as soon as possible so appropriate arrangements and adjustments can be made.

How does having access to sources you would not usually have sight of in an exam change the expectations of your exam answers?

Are lecturers expecting a different type of answer now that you have access to all the sources that would be unavailable to you in a traditional, unseen exam?

As the information about your topic will be available for you to consult, exam questions are likely to focus less on recall and more on things such as your ability to: apply your knowledge; evaluate arguments and ideas; analyse sources (data, texts, images etc.); and solve problems. This means it is even more important to practice doing all of this as part of your exam preparation.

You should receive specific guidance on whether and how you are expected to cite and reference any sources you use in the exam. If this is a requirement, you should make sure you know how to use the appropriate referencing style, as well as the level of detail expected. The assessment criteria or marking rubric for the exam should help with this and any guidance you receive should also include details of how to raise any questions or concerns you might have.

If you have access to a large volume of information, you might be tempted to assume you need to include all of this in your answers. This may not only cause you extra stress, but also steer you towards including lots of information at the expense of the kind of analysis and evaluation you are more likely to be assessed on. Fewer sources used in a well thought-out way may well help you better address the questions.

Preparing for your exams

Understand the topic

Use the module learning outcomes and the introductions and conclusions of lectures to identify the key research, ideas, concepts etc. for your topic.

Identify what types of thinking skills you are likely to be examined on are being asked for?

The types of analysis, critical thinking, problem-solving etc. you have had to do in class and as part of your coursework provide important clues as to how you will be assessed in your exam. To help you prepare for the exam, create questions for yourself that require you to apply your knowledge and to think in the kinds of ways the exam will require you to. You can use some of the terms found in the ‘Essay Terms Explained’ study guide to help you with this:

When revising, identify key sources or information you are likely to be working with in the exam:

  • Annotate the sources you will be using so that you can find key information easily.
  • Create summaries, mind-maps, essay plans etc. to help you practice linking ideas or sources together to answer practice exam questions. Think carefully about what the exam questions will be asking you to do. What kinds of critical analysis or evaluation, for example, will the exam require you to undertake?
  • If it is an essay-based exam, think about how you can structure your arguments in a logical way, as you would in a course work essay (bear in mind, though, that the word limits for exam essays are likely to be lower than those of many coursework essays).

Sitting the exam

Create an optimum exam environment

Can you arrange to work in a quiet place without distractions? Where do you tend to work most comfortably and effectively?

If you have any concerns about access to an appropriate environment, either before or during the exam, it is vital to let someone in your School know as soon as possible so that necessary arrangements or adjustments can be made.

Managing your time

You will be given a minimum of 24 hours to complete the exam but this does not mean you are expected you to use all of that time. Whilst it is up to you to decide how much time to spend, you are strongly advised not to skip rest, relaxation or sleep during the specified exam period. It may well be counter-productive to use longer stretches of time to complete your exam as the energy and anxiety spent might not further improve your mark, but instead tire you out.

The guidance you receive ahead of your exam should make clear the length of time your lecturers would normally expect you to spend on each exam question, and on the exam in total. If you are unsure, ask.

You can choose whether to complete a question in one go, or whether to write a first draft and return to it a bit later before you submit.

Do you know what to do if you have technical problems?

You will be given guidance about the technical support available for a take-home exam, and who to contact in the event of any problems.

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