How should I study for an online exam?
Understand the Material
- As with studying for all exams, start by reviewing the syllabus, with a special focus on course objectives. This is where your instructor tells you what they wanted you to learn in the course. Do you understand all course objectives by now? Are you able to meet them?
- Focus on understanding, connecting, and applying course concepts, not memorizing. Online exam questions will emphasize application, connection, and analysis even more than in-person exams.
Know Your Exam Format
- Read the online exam instructions ahead of time. Then read them again! Knowing what to expect and being confident that you can handle the exam format really helps to lower exam stress.
- If possible, find out all technical and procedural details ahead of time, such as whether you will be able to go back and revise earlier answers later, or whether your responses will be submitted as soon as you type them. If you know this information, quiz yourself using the same timing and procedures that will be used in the exam.
- If your instructor has given information ahead of time about the overall format and value of the sections and questions, do some time-planning about how long to spend on each section as part of your final studying, so you won’t have to use exam time on it. Don’t forget to save time in the end for review, if possible.
Online Exam Study Tips
How do I get set up at home for an online exam?
Set-up Your Exam Space
- Find a quiet, secluded space near a power outlet to do the exam, where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. If you live with other people and/or pets, find a spot where you can close the door, if possible. You don’t want people talking loudly in the background, or your beloved kitty jumping up on the keyboard in mid-exam!
- If you’ve decided to use a space you don’t normally spend screen time at, spend a good amount of time there online well before the exam to be confident the WiFi is strong and reliable in that location.
- Get organized. Well ahead of time, get everything ready that you’ll need at exam time – laptop cable, paper, pencils and eraser, a full water bottle; any prepared course materials you think you might need, etc.
- Turn off your phone and put it where you can’t see or reach it. You don’t want distractions during exam time.
- Keep something nearby that shows the time, other than your computer. If your phone is the only time-keeping device you have, devote some time before the exam to changing its notification settings to avoid getting distracting pop-ups or noises throughout the exam.
- Close all browser tabs and notifications, and once you sign in, keep only the exam browser open at all times. The only exception, for exams with essay questions, might be to open a Word file, if you find it easiest to compose there. It’s usually okay to copy and paste from a Word file into the answer field. If you want to do this, check the exam instructions first and remember to save the Word file frequently so you don’t lose content by mistake.
- Make sure you understand all technical requirements for the exam and check well ahead of time that your computer is up to the task. Test the link with lots of time to spare, and if there’s a chance to do a practice run-through, do so.
- Be in place, ready to go, with your computer on and everything at hand, at least 15-30 minutes before start time. Online environments can be unforgiving, and if you are even a few minutes late, some systems may lock you out of taking the exam altogether.
- Has your instructor provided guidance on what to do in case of technical problems? Get familiar with these protocols and with your instructor’s contact information. Odds are, everything will go smoothly, but it never hurts to be prepared. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a screenshot on your computer, refresh your memory about how to do this quickly, so you can screenshot any error messages in case of technical glitches.
- Once you have answered all questions to the best of your ability, don’t forget to hit the “submit” button, and take a screenshot of the confirmation you’ve done this, if you get one.
How should I approach an open book exam?
- Know ahead of time if your exam is open book and follow the instructions. If you know there are course materials you’ll need to refer to, prepare these well ahead of time, to allow quick and easy access to the exact locations you’ll need. As always, the best approach is to know the course material thoroughly.
- Even with open book exams, your best strategy is always to know and understand course materials well before exam time. Don’t expect to have time during the exam to look up answers or rely too much on the books, notes and resources you have at hand to help you through.
- Exam Prep: Strategies for Open Book Exams - Simon Fraser University
- Preparing for an Online, Open-Book Exam - Trent University
What strategies can I use for a timed multiple choice exam?
- The best thing that you can do for any exam (especially one where the individual questions are timed) is to be well prepared and get a good night's sleep before the exam.
- Try to simulate the experience you will have on the exam while studying. Practice answering questions with a timer. Mix up your practice questions (e.g. question from chapter 5, then a question from chapter 1), as they may appear in any order on your exam.
- For strategies that you can use to answer multiple choice questions during the exam; see the Learning Skills Services Exam Prep resources.
- When writing an exam where each question is timed and you cannot go back to check your work, stay calm, take a deep breath, and do your best. When you have tried the cover up and modified cover up strategies and still don't know the answer; make an educated guess and move on.
"Some computerized examinations don't allow for backtracking, so your best bet when facing a tough question is simply to take a deep breath or two from the belly (make sure to breathe out all the way, also) and do your best."- Barbara Oakley, A Mind for Numbers, p.243
Where can I find more exam prep help?
Workshops & Appointments (Registration Required)
- Exam Prep - Learning Skills Services Workshop
- Learning Power - Learning Skills Services Workshop
- Peer Academic Coaching - Learning Skills Services 1:1 Appointment
Resources to Explore on Your Own
- Tips for Online Exams (pdf) - A print friendly version of the tips on this web page.
- Learning Skill Services Resources for Success - Exam prep tips, resources, and worksheets
- Academic Integrity Tutorial - SPARK