How to Ace Your Online Exams
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How to Study for an Online Exam

Many students make the mistake of assuming that online exams are a piece of cake because they can use their books, notes, or other materials from the class to get every question right. This is a dangerous assumption. An online exam is a completely different animal from your traditional, blue book, or scantron college exam.

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How These Exams are Different

To begin, there are multiple types of online exams. The virtual learning platforms available (such as Blackboard and Canvass) have various options in their testing applications. Instructors can create a simple multiple-choice test, a fill-in-the-blank exam (with or without a word bank), an all essay exam, or any other format they could do in a traditional classroom exam.

The instructors also have several options for the process of taking the test: they can install passwords to ensure security; they can allow a single or multiple opportunities to take the exam; they can put a time limit on the exam; or they can have the test set for what is called forced completion, meaning you can’t stop and start over—once you’re done, you’re done.

Because you will have access to your textbook, notes, and other resources, and teachers know this, they are apt to make the exams much more difficult than they would in a traditional setting. It is still important to study prior to taking the exam online.

And you don’t have to be in an online class to take an online exam. Many universities use online testing as a way to maintain control of the exams, make changes as needed, and review their usefulness after a period of time. These tests are so much more than just exams for points.

Resources to Utilize

Because you are most likely taking an online exam at home or in a computer lab, you will have access to lots of resources. You will have your textbook, notes, and study guides. You will also have people around you that could be willing to help you pass, though this is highly unethical. There is a certain level of trust between instructors and students, and it is always in the student’s best interest to maintain that trust.

Your textbook can be either a help or a hindrance. If you have been keeping up with your reading, and have made notes, highlighted, or annotated your textbook, it will be a good resource. If you are opening the textbook for the first time, it is not going to be very useful to you. You will waste valuable time trying to find answers that may not even be in the book. The answers may come from the class notes or a study guide.

Class notes are your next best resource. It is not uncommon for instructors to create test questions from lectures they gave on topics outside the textbook. Instructors can also use lectures to connect textbook concepts with everyday situations to increase your understanding. Taking notes is essential. If you are taking an online class, pay close attention to the videos or online lectures and power point slideshows.

You can tie together the textbook readings and the class notes with an instructor provided study guide. Some study guides can be very vague, and you will have to spend a great deal of time comparing the book to the notes and formulating possible questions and their solutions. Other study guides are quite detailed and give students a clear path to succeeding on the exam.

Tips to be Successful

There are many ways to study for an exam. If you want to be successful, try these tips:

  • Always know the parameters of the test. Will it be multiple choice? Essay? Fill-in-the-blank?
  • Be aware of any potential time limits. Some exams are limited to 60-90 minutes, depending on the subject and how much time is required to answer each question.
  • Be certain of the date of the exam. One of the great things about taking tests online is that, while you have a final deadline to submit the test, you can do it anytime once the instructor has made it available.
  • Take a few days to review the study guide and really dig into the material. Two hours of prep per day for three days is a good starting point.
  • Don’t cram. Cramming overtaxes your memory and you will actually remember less, or even get confused about the material.
  • Make sure you plan to take the exam at a time during the day when you are most alert. Don’t take the exam at the end of a long work day, or right away when you first wake up. Allow your body to be well-rested and your mind sharp when you begin the process.
  • Have all of your resources organized, highlighted, and even tagged so you can find the material you might need during the exam quickly and easily.

Knowledge, preparation, and awareness are your best tools when preparing for an online exam. Don’t try to take it on the fly or wing it because you have a free hour. Schedule your test time, be focused, and be ready to consult your materials. That’s what it takes to pass an online exam.