Guide to Online Exams

January 11, 2021 • 4 Min Read

The accessibility and flexibility of distance learning has led to an increase in online enrollment. In 2018, nearly seven million U.S. college students were enrolled in distance-learning programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As online classes have become more prevalent, schools have adapted essential components of the classroom experience, including exams, to online formats.

Like paper exams, online exams help instructors assess students' learning. Understanding how online exams work may help alleviate pre-test anxiety. This guide provides tips for students who are new to remote learning and for those who want to improve their study skills. The following sections explore methods to prepare for and complete online tests.

While online exams generally include the same content as classroom exams, some aspects of the process may be new to test-takers. Online students often take exams at home. However, some schools administer exams at proctoring facilities or in school computer labs.

Professors may require students to run proctoring software while taking online tests. Proctoring software helps prevent cheating by accessing the computer's microphone and webcam to record audio and video, preventing test-takers from opening windows other than the exam window, or monitoring the user's screen. Many proctoring programs require students to verify their identity before taking a test online.

Students may take exams using an online learning platform, such as Canvas or Blackboard, or on an external site. The professor instructs learners on where, when, and how to take online exams. Test-takers who are unclear about any details should contact their instructor before the exam date.

Preparing for an Online Exam

Students who are new to online test-taking often feel nervous. Taking time to set up your workspace and become familiar with the exam format can help you feel more comfortable. The following section includes tips to help learners prepare for the online test-taking process.

Understand the Rules

Parameters for online tests can vary, so students should research the test-taking rules ahead of time. Before completing a test online, learners may need to install software or an app, such as proctoring software. Learners should know whether the test is timed and how long they have to complete the exam.

Many instructors require open-book exams, allowing test-takers to consult their course materials or notes. When sitting for an open-book exam, students should understand which materials they are allowed to consult, such as textbooks, notes, or online resources.

Know the Test Layout

Like in-person tests, online exams can differ in structure, format, and requirements. Online tests may feature multiple-choice, short-answer, or essay questions. Being familiar with the exam layout can help learners use their exam time efficiently.

For essay questions, students may compose their response in a word processing program. However, some proctoring softwares flag copying and pasting as cheating, so test-takers should find out in advance whether pasting from a different program is allowed. For multiple-choice tests, knowing the number of questions can help students pace themselves.

Take Practice Exams, If Possible

Practice exams can help learners review exam material and become comfortable with online test-taking. These exams are unproctored and ungraded, but they allow learners to see their score and receive feedback. Practice exams feature content and a difficulty level similar to the real test and can help test-takers become familiar with the online exam platform. Knowing how the platform functions can save time and increase confidence for the real exam.

The instructor may provide a practice exam, or students can ask for one. If no official practice exam is available, learners may create their own using questions from notes and homework assignments.

Set Up Your Space

A productive workspace can help learners focus when taking a test online. If possible, students should choose a quiet, well-lit place where they can sit comfortably for the exam's duration.

Choosing an online test-taking spot early provides an opportunity to stock it with useful items. Test-takers may need a pen and paper to take notes, a timer, earplugs, a water bottle, and healthy snacks. Block out your schedule, and let your roommates or family know not to disturb you.

Prepare Your Materials in Advance

When sitting for online exams, students should have all necessary materials on hand. Learners may need a notepad to jot down ideas or perform calculations, whether the exam is open book or closed book.

For open-book exams, organize your class notes in a way that helps you easily locate information. Some learners like to consult an outline, while others prefer quick-reference lists, charts, or diagrams. If allowed, students may highlight or underline important parts of their textbook. You can also use sticky notes to mark sections.

Decide When You Will Take the Test

While some online tests are only available at set times, students can often choose when to take their test. If you can choose your test time, consider your schedule, how much time you need to prepare, and what time of day you are the most focused.

Some students perform best in the morning, while others feel sharper later in the day. Sitting for the online exam as early as possible during the allotted period may give you a sense of relief, while opting for a later start allows the maximum amount of time to prepare.

During an Online Exam

This section includes suggestions to add to your repertoire of online test-taking strategies. The following tips cover methods for using your electronic devices and keeping track of time, along with a few tasks to complete after you finish your online exam.

Change Your Computer

No learner wants their laptop's battery to run down during an important online exam. Selecting a test-taking space with access to power can prevent this. If possible, fully charge any electronic devices before beginning the exam, including your computer, phone, and tablet. Before starting the online test, make sure chargers and power cords are accessible.

Since you will likely be sitting at your computer for an extended period of time, choose a comfortable seat. Taking short breaks to stand and stretch can help you stay focused and relaxed.

Monitor Your Time

To avoid running out of time before finishing the test, students sitting for timed exams should keep an eye on the clock. Consider using a timer to alert you when the test period is almost up or setting a stopwatch to keep track of how long you have been working.

Maintaining a steady pace is also important. If you get stuck on a question, skip it and come back to it later, if the test allows. Know in advance whether the test requires students to answer questions sequentially. Focusing on simpler questions first can help test takers build momentum and complete as many questions as possible.

Stay on the Test Page Until You Are Done

Some online test platforms log test-takers out if they leave the page. However, students can take precautions to avoid inadvertently closing the test window and losing hours of hard work.

If the exam allows you to consult additional materials, consider accessing them on a separate device, such as a tablet or phone. Learners can also print out their notes. If you do not have access to a second device but need to use online resources, you can open them in a separate browser window. In case of technical problems, record your answers as you go, using a word processing program or pen and paper.

Check Your Work

If you have extra time after completing all questions, you can go review your work before submitting the test. Make sure your answers are accurate and complete, and proofread for grammar and spelling. Taking a test online can be a fast-paced and stressful experience, so learners often discover errors they would not usually make.

This is an ideal time to revisit any questions you skipped. If you noted which questions you skipped, you should be able to find them quickly.

Make Sure You Submit Your Exam

Most online exams are not complete until the test-taker clicks the submit button. Since answers must be submitted correctly for test-takers to receive credit, this is a crucial step.

Students should wait until they are sure they have successfully submitted the exam before navigating away from the test window or refreshing the page. Depending on the platform, the test-taker may receive a confirmation message or be redirected to another page.

If you experience problems submitting the exam, email your instructor immediately. If possible, you should document the problem and include your answers as an attachment.

Check Your Grade If Possible

After taking a test online, students usually want to know their grade as soon as possible. Some exams, especially multiple-choice tests, may display results immediately. However, you might not receive your score until the instructor has graded the exam.

Contact your professor by their preferred method if you need help viewing your grade or you do not know when it will be available. Some instructors allow students to retake online exams. If so, learners should know how long they have to retake the test.

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