In one respect, taking your exams online sounds kind of amazing, right? No judgey proctor looming before you. No rules against peeking at your lecture notes. No sneezing, throat-clearing, nail-chewing, seat-shifting classmates to distract you. What could be bad about that?
Well, for all the benefits of taking your exams online, there are some distinct features of online test-taking that you should be prepared for. Like every other aspect of online education, studying for, and taking, online final exams will require some adjustment on your part. Unlike most other aspects of online education, final exams carry pretty high stakes. In other words, you’ll want to make this adjustment pretty quickly.
If you’re struggling to adjust to the broader experience of online education, consider checking out our 10 Tips for Online Education Beginners.
If you’re just looking for a few tips to help prepare for the coming round of online final exams, read on…
First and foremost, make sure you know what the test will look like and how you’ll be completing it. Will it be multiple choice? Short-form question/answer? Essay format? Will you be taking your exam through the same portal you use to attend virtual classes or through a separate portal? Will there be live proctoring? Do you need to sign into a locked window that both prevents you from opening other windows and controls the amount of time you have to complete your test?
And of course, you should know the answers to a few practical questions as well, says Cengage. Among them,
Will the test take place at a specific date and time, or can you take the exam at any point during a particular window of time? How much time will you have to complete the test? Can you take the test at home, or must you take the exam in a specific location (e.g., a campus computer lab)? Are there any other important, ‘need to know’ factors outlined by the instructor?
Naturally, this is the same information you’d want before taking a traditional in-class test. The big difference is that you won’t be able to approach a lectern and ask your professor for clarification if you suddenly find yourself completely disoriented by the format of your exam. Our advice—don’t find yourself in this situation. If there’s anything you don’t understand about the exam, give yourself plenty of lead time to ask your professor before test day.
Speaking of lead time, use it to take a practice exam or two. This could go a long way toward preparing you for the real thing. Ask your professor to recommend some relevant online practice materials. You could certainly do an independent web search for practice exams connected to your online college’s specific course. But be warned that savvy professors often change their testing materials and testing methods on a semi-regular basis.
Confirm that your practice exam matches the format and instructions for your upcoming exam. If you’re not sure, ask your professor. Once you know for sure, give yourself a few trial runs. It goes without saying that a practice exam is a valuable way to familiarize yourself with the material, but just as importantly, it can provide you with a bit of technical experience with the online testing format. This could ultimately make your actual test-taking experience a whole lot smoother and more efficient.
There are few more nightmarish scenarios than the one in which you sit down for your timed and scheduled online exam only to mash buttons in vain as your WiFi goes down, your operating system launches into an automatic 1-hour software update, or your computer spontaneously combusts. It’s best to preempt any of these possibilities by doing a thorough systemwide check-up before the start-time for your online exam. This includes ensuring that your internet connection is firing on all cylinders, that all software updates have been performed ahead of time, and that your machine is fully charged, plugged into an outlet, and functioning in peak form.
And don’t wait until the zero-hour to run your system check. It’s possible something could go wrong. Be sure you have a Plan B and enough time to execute it. ECPI University advises that you
Give yourself time to get another computer or travel to an alternative Wi-Fi access point if needs be.
As an online student, the likelihood is high that you will be taking more than a few open-book exams. Don’t get cocky though. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Naturally, the advantage of an open-book exam is that you can refer to your course text-books, lecture notes, and online printouts as you take your exam. But it’s not like you’re getting one over on your professor. Typically, open-book exams measure far more than memory and recall. Because you have ready access to the facts, data, and trivia, your exam will likely require a deeper level of insight into the material, the kind you can’t simply retrieve from page 99 of your textbook.
In other words, you still need to do your research. Study your materials as though they won’t be at your fingertips on exam day. Do the work required to achieve a deeper understanding of the material. While the books may help you pin down the specific date of an historical event, or the proper spelling of an important scientific term, it will be up to you to convey the meaning, importance, and relevance of these events and terms. Your online professor knows that you have access to course materials. Anticipate an exam that demands a deeper dive into those materials, the kind that can only come from long-term preparation.
While you should study like you won’t have open books at your fingertips, you should still prepare for your exam by optimizing the resources you will have. Make sure that you’ve outfitted your testing space with everything you’ll need to get through an exam without hassle. If you do plan to refer to print sources, open your texts to the pertinent pages in advance. If you are allowed to use online resources, open the windows and tabs you’ll need ahead of time, preferably on a separate device from the one you’ll be using to submit your exam.
Beyond that, make sure you have an empty notebook and writing device for note-taking, a power cord and a working outlet, proper lighting, and if you’re so inclined, snacks and/or a beverage. Never underestimate the importance of remaining hydrated, especially in a high-stress situation. Think of your exam as a road trip (but slightly less fun). Equip your test-taking vehicle with everything you’ll need to make your journey without wasting time on unnecessary stops along the highway. Oh, and like a road trip, do yourself a favor and hit the restroom before the drive begins.
You don’t want to be interrupted while pursuing your online education…but it probably happens all the time anyway. According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, 41% of all online students are parents. That makes 41% of all online students who probably don’t have much control over whether or not they are interrupted during online lectures, classroom discussions, or study sessions. But test-taking is different. You really need to create a space that is impenetrable to outside forces like your pets, children, and in-laws.
If that means you have to leave your home and work at a childless friend’s quiet apartment, do it. If that means you need to jam a fistful of cash into your husband’s hand and send him to the mall with your children, do it. If you have to structure an office out of the attic above the closet in your bedroom because your kids have no idea the room even exists, definitely do it. Find your peaceful place. Obviously, make sure your WiFi works in that peaceful place. But find it, and make it your own.
Ironically, WiFi and peace are usually contradicting forces. Even in total isolation from the physical world, online students are at all times plugged into a virtual multiverse teeming with social media alerts, inbox pings, SMS threads, and an infinitude of opened desktops, windows, and tabs all populated by irrelevant news articles, online storefronts, and embarrassing celebrity gossip.
Shut them all down. Don’t worry. You can bookmark everything. The list of celebrities who have aged terribly will still be there waiting for you when the exam is over. For now, Cengage says
Turn off all notifications from IM, your phone, your email, and elsewhere (or, set them to silent). Shut off the TV and radio. Let your roommates or family know that you’ll be taking a test, so that they’re less likely to interrupt you during that time.
Know exactly how much time you have to complete your exam. It may help to set a few intermittent alerts in advance so that you receive notifications at the halfway point and at the ten-minute warning. You don’t want to complete your test under pressure-cooker conditions. But you do need to budget your time according to the rules of the exam.
It may help to start by looking ahead. Get a full sense of the scope of your exam, and how much work will be required to address each section. Use your discretion to determine how much time should be devoted to difficult and time-consuming tasks. You may want to place limits on how much time you spend on these tasks during your first pass-through. Once you’ve completed the more manageable sections of your exam, you may be able to revisit these sections with a clearer head and a little extra time at your disposal.
Don’t let the clock distract you, but be sure you keep it in the back of your mind at all times. Pace your work accordingly.
Of course, you can take every single step to prepare for your exam, and something can still go wrong. Computers do die. Internet service providers do crash. Children do find your fortress of solitude and draw all over your monitor with indelible markers. Stuff happens. Hopefully you have an understanding and compassionate professor. But it’s important that you act promptly to make contact with your professor in the event of these or other unforeseen calamities.
If something goes wrong, Cengage advises,
Don’t panic. But do contact your instructor immediately, detailing the exact problem that occurred and any error messages you might have received. If you can take a screen shot, that is helpful as well.
Hopefully you don’t have to use it, but keep your professor’s email address and phone number at your immediate disposal, just in case.
This may feel counterintuitive, particularly after an intense week of caffeinated, late-night cram sessions, but you will do your best work if you can calm your mind, find your focus, and channel your zen. If that means wearing elastic-waisted pants, lighting scented candles and pumping gentle new age music through your speakers while you work, that’s cool. You do you.
Fortunately, nothing helps quite so much as effective studying and strong preparation. If you’ve taken the steps outlined here above, there’s a good chance you’ve done exactly that. As you sit down to take your exam, remind yourself of this fact. You’ve done the legwork. You understand the material. Now you just have to close the deal. Tell yourself that you got this.
Say it out loud.
Seriously. Say, “I got this!” I’ll wait.
Ok. Good. You’re ready. Now go crush your online finals!
Naturally, our goal is to make life easier for you. But we also recognize that talk of final exams can be triggering. We believe the tips above can help to take some of the pressure off of you as you prepare for your exams. But we also know that this may not always be enough. Final exams can magnify some of the mental health challenges faced by college students, both those living on campus and those pursuing their degree online.
Fortunately, the Best Online Colleges will offer strong mental health support services. Be sure to take advantage of these services should you need them. If you are an online student dealing with feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, or burnout, find out more about your mental health support options.