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A pupil’s guide to acing online exams

Give yourself enough time to prepare and revise before any exam. File picture: Valerie Baeriswyl Reuters

Give yourself enough time to prepare and revise before any exam. File picture: Valerie Baeriswyl Reuters

Published May 31, 2022


For some pupils, writing an online exam is a new and somewhat confusing experience.

They don’t know what to expect, and aren’t certain of the skills and strategies that will enable them to perform at their best.

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And as unpleasant as taking an exam can be, it actually does more than just show your teacher what you know: it helps you learn.

Here are 15 tips to help you ace the practicalities of online exams:

1. Be on time. If you’re not on time, you may not be able to access the exam

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2. Prepare your device. Exams are timed, so any power interruption, poor web connection or problem with a programme will probably cost you the exam. Test your links beforehand.

3. Balance yourself. Take a deep breath and wait for the page to download fully. You don’t want to write a paper that’s not complete because some questions are missing.

4. Read the instructions first. Mails or messages from your instructor should arrive with the test. If you don’t understand something, ask your instructor. If you can find a practice exam, test yourself first. This will give you more confidence.

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5. Have materials on hand. If you need to have books, notepads, pens or pencils, make sure they’re within easy reach.

6. Don’t rely on access to books and notes. Although many online exams are not supervised, this doesn’t mean you don’t need to study. The information should be quickly available from memory. Due to the time allocation, you can’t afford to be hastily looking up answers to questions.

7. Don’t even try to collaborate or use cheat sheets. Software for online testing can switch up the test questions so they are in random order, even if you’re taking the same exam.

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8. Copy and Paste is acceptable if you’re using a programme you’re not fast in. If it’s going to make you complete the exam faster and you’re familiar with your most used programme, but the test is in another word processing programme, type your answers in the programme you’re familiar with, then copy them into the exam fields. Familiarity will be your friend when the minutes are ticking past.

9. Don’t panic. If you blank out on a question, move ahead. You can come back to it later.

10. Work smart. If you have multiple choice questions and you don’t know the answer, work back from the least likely or eliminate those that seem out of place.

11. Make a back-up plan for technical problems. We’ve all been cut off unexpectedly in the middle of something, but it’s especially frustrating when this happens in an exam context. Try to have an alternative way of emailing, texting or phoning your teacher or professor. Advise them of your situation and take a screenshot. Some things are beyond your control.

12. Set an alarm. Alert yourself about 15 minutes before the end of the test, check your answers and don’t rush the submission process. If, for some reason, the submission is a problem, inform your instructor and mail your answers in a document attachment.

13. Don’t forget to submit at the end of the exam. If time allows, it’s probably a good idea to read through your answers. But don’t fail to press the submit button or all your work will have been for nothing. Also, check that the submission has been processed before you close the page.

14. Ask for feedback. You will be notified of your results. But learning how you could have got a better grade should be the whole point of exam taking. Ask if you can have a copy of the questions asked in the exam, as well as your answers.

15. Reward yourself afterwards. You worked hard, treat yourself in a way that makes you feel good and builds up your strength for the next challenge.