This year exams are no doubt going to be different. With many campuses primarily using online exams, studying, writing, and approaching finals season will be slightly different. For this reason, on the Nimbus blog we’re looking at five tips to ace the one of the strangest exam seasons we’ve seen.

Set up a schedule with your family or roommates.

If you’re planning to write any of your exams at home, give your housemates a heads up for when this will be happening. If there are multiple students in the house, it might be a good idea to write out a schedule and post it someplace everyone can see.

This is also a good time for everyone in the house to agree on ground rules for when one of the housemates is in an exam. Do you need to set an upper limit for how loud the T.V. can go? What room will each person write their exam in, and is this room considered off limits during the test? Also, take stock of your internet bandwidth. If one person is playing video games, does that slow the internet down for the rest of the house? Will that be a problem with the program you will be using to write your exam?

Study in the location you plan to write the exam in.

Once you’ve set up some ground rules with your housemates, test out the room to make sure everything is in order. Does your upstairs neighbour make any sounds that you find distracting? Does it meet all the requirements your school has set out for your exam – mirrors, no posters on the walls, etc? Even if this is your home, there may be some surprises that you hadn’t considered. It’s best to deal with everything – or mentally prepare yourself if you can’t fix it – well ahead of time.

If you’re planning to write an exam at a local library or campus study spot, make sure you frequent this place ahead of time so you can iron out any kinks. Do you have to book a desk or room ahead of time? Is there a time limit on how long you can use the internet? Is the internet connection spotty or unpredictable? How are the noise and comfort levels?

If you’re supposed to have a web cam on during the exam, make sure that you are allowed to film in whatever location you will be writing in and that the facility doesn’t have some security setting against using these devices (you’d be surprised).

If you will be required to wear a mask for the entire time, also practice keeping your mask on for that long just in case you realize it becomes uncomfortable or distracting with an hour plus of wear.

Even if you are planning to write your exam at home, there may be some surprises that you hadn’t considered. It’s best to deal with everything – or mentally prepare yourself if you can’t fix it – well ahead of time.

Understand the format of the exam before going in.

This is the case with any exam, but don’t forget there is a chance that the online exams this year will be very different from what you’re previously used to. Questions to ask your professor include:

  • Will each question be timed? (e.g., have 90 seconds before it switches over to the next question)
  • Will you have the opportunity to go back and review your answers before hitting submit?
  • Will there be videos you needs to watch as part of the exam or will there be some form of sound (i.e., will you need headphones or an accommodation?)
  • If there is a long answer portion, how strict is the word count? (i.e., will the answer box only accept a certain number of characters or words?)
  • If it is open book, what are the expectations around this? Are you permitted to have other browsers or documents open on your computer or will it be hard-copy only?

Prep your tech & anticipate technical difficulties.

No doubt at one point in your educational career you’ve likely encountered Murphy’s law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible moment for it to go wrong. Online exams are no different. Don’t forget, not only does this rely on your technology and internet connection, but university servers are going to have to field hundreds if not thousands of students using these programs at the same time.

Before you start your exam make sure you have the following information in an easily accessible place:

  • Is there a number you can call if your internet stops working during the exam?
  • Who do you contact if you can’t get the program or internet page to work?
  • If you accidentally do something like navigate off the internet page that has your exam on it, or close the browser window, is there a way you can recover your answers?

Suny Brockport also recommends that 24 hours in advance of your exam you check to make sure your computer or browser doesn’t need any updates. Also double check what browser you will need to access the exam page – Firefox and Safari aren’t recognized by all programs, so you may need to install an additional browser. If you have an ad blocker or other privacy settings installed on your computer, make sure this won’t prevent you from getting any important pop-ups or notifications throughout your exam.

Before you start your exam, make sure you have the contact info of who you need to call if you experience technical difficulties in an easily accessible place.

Protect yourself in case of technical difficulties or human error.

This one might seem obvious but make sure that you have all social media windows closed and have exited out of all messaging apps before you start writing.

Simon Fraser University also recommends that you record your answers on a second word doc., just in case you accidentally navigate away from the web page or it won’t let you submit for some reason. Make sure you check with your professors to confirm that this is allowed, but copy and pasting your long-form answers into a word doc means you won’t have to re-write them should anything go wrong.

SFU also recommends that after you hit submit take a screenshot of the confirmation page for your records. This will help you if your school did not receive your exam or have technical difficulties on their side. (NOTE: Do not take screenshots of the questions throughout the exam – this will likely constitute an academic offence.)

Nimbus Learning now offers an online tutoring platform which allows students virtual access to academic support and mentorship. Click here to find out more.

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