How to get prepared for online exams

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We are all aware of what a tough time exam season is for students. This year comes with its own difficulties, as the fallout of the pandemic is still very much a reality in our day-to-day lives. Some of you will once again be sitting online exams, so we wanted to offer a reminder of some useful tips and tricks that will help you successfully prepare for the online assessment format.

Many students have found they prefer online exams as you can focus your revision and actually absorb the content, rather than worrying about rushing your answers or getting intimidated by other students frantically writing around you. Try and stay positive, and view this as an opportunity to really study your courses in depth rather than simply having to memorise content. You may find you actually gain a lot more from this assessment style.

During the build up

Many of us have gotten used to working from home. However, now that more and more study spaces are available on campus, try to keep yourself sane by separating your work and living space. This will help you to avoid feeling consumed by your revision, and help to create a healthy work-life balance. If you fancy a change of scenery, do some research into libraries and café’s that are open in your local area – enjoying a slice of cake while you work will make all the difference!

You may find that some of your preferred revision methods would benefit from a shake up this year. If your exams are open book, you won’t need to meticulously remember every tiny detail, as taking these assessments allows you to have your materials in front of you!  It is still important to prepare. But you can spend your time really getting to grips with concepts without worrying about having to recall them in minute detail.  So think about organising and creating notes in ways that are going to help you on the day. For example, by condensing your resources into flashcards or mind maps as they will be easy to reach, saving you valuable time during the assessment. Creating a rigorous index system organised by specific topics or themes will not only help to boost your productivity, but will also help you to connect the dots and truly understand the broader concepts of your course. Read Malaika’s revision tips to learn more ways that you can adapt your revision methods this year.

It is also important to maintain an accurate revision timetable and planner from now until the day of your final exam. Having this visual reminder will be incredibly useful to help stay focused and on track. You should also aim to treat revision like a job i.e. as a full day’s work with appropriate breaks. It doesn’t have to be 9-5, but by forming a working routine, you will work more efficiently and be more likely to stay on task. 

If you feel you need the presence of others to stay accountable, study in groups. The Alan Gilbert Learning Commons has some great collaborative work spaces! This will help you to bounce off of each-others ideas and better understand some of the trickier concepts, and could easily be done over zoom if you don’t feel comfortable meeting in person.

Finally, don’t view taking a break as a waste of valuable time – we cannot stress enough that having a break is productive! Your mind and body needs time to recharge, and it’s important to remember that you deserve it. However, we encourage you to make proper use of your breaks; don’t waste them scrolling through Instagram and TikTok. Get active or do something creative – your lockdown hobby will still come in useful as a comforting activity to continue in your downtime. Staying in the library convincing yourself that you’re still working is only going to stress you out in the long run. So, don’t just break at your desk, make the most of it. 

Day before/On the Day

Be sure you know what’s expected of you; submission times, word limits and any other assessment requirements. 

Make your environment as comfortable as possible. One of the benefits of online assessments is that you have control over how and where you sit the exam. Stock up the biscuit tin and have your calming playlist at the ready.

If you’re completing your exam at home, make sure your family or flatmates are aware of when you’re sitting the exam so as to limit possible interruptions. Be mindful that there will be more distractions than if you were sat in an exam hall. If this is making you particularly anxious,  think about heading to the Library or any of the other available study spaces on campus. If this isn’t possible for you, or you’d just prefer to sit the exam at home, try leaving your phone in another room or temporarily shutting down your Netflix account. You might also find that downloading a social media blocker on your devices will be the most effective way of limiting distractions.

Don’t worry about working for the entire time you’ve been given – you shouldn’t be spending 24 hours (or however long your particular exam lasts) at your desk. In fact, you aren’t expected to spend much more than double the normal exam length e.g. if the exam is normally 2 hours long, don’t spend more than 4 hours to complete the work when sitting an online exam. 

Avoid falling into the trap of attempting to cram every piece of information possible into your answers. With your notes in front of you, we know that this is all too easy. However to achieve top marks, it’s crucial to remain concise in your answers by only providing relevant information. Remember that in an open book assessment, you wont just be asked to simply recall information like in a normal exam as examiners know that you will have your notes in front of you. They are designed to test how well you understand the content and how you can critically apply it to broader concepts – so don’t feel the need to include every single detail you can think of. By sticking to the advised time scale, you will be much more precise and far less likely to waffle.

Don’t panic if you experience technical issues during your exams. The IT Support Service is available 24/7 to offer guidance. For more help on how to prepare for online exams, and who to talk to if you’re experiencing technical difficulties, visit Student Support.

Good luck from all of us at Student News – you’ve got this!

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