Preparing for Online Exams

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both students and teachers have had to adapt to learn and teach differently this fall. Exam season at VIU is different from all other times. As they are done at home, most exams will technically be a take-home exam. VIU has included all timed exams in its exam schedule. However, you may be allowed to take the test for longer than the usual time. You will be provided with all details by your instructors.

We expect that many take-home, non-timed exams, will be given during classes. They will need to be returned the next week. You will be provided with all details and deadlines by your instructors. You may have multiple exams due at once, so it is important to learn how to manage your time.

Continue reading to learn about the different types of exams you might face this year, how to prepare for them, and some general tips to help make your exam season successful.

Different types of online tests

These are the types of tests that your instructors might use to assess your learning this semester.

Multiple-choice exams

Online tests may be run by your instructor in the same way as in class. However, it is possible for peers to talk to each other and share their best answers for peer evaluation. This type of collaboration can be a great learning strategy. They also realize that students learn from each other’s mistakes and will benefit from the others’ preparation.

Strategy for student preparation

Begin to make friends with other students in the class. Study together, and plan to take the exam together. You will need to have your books open for the instructor to assess you. There may also be a time limit. You won’t be able to look up all answers on the test. Prepare by learning relevant vocabulary and facts. Also, make sure you know your resources so you can quickly find information if you forget what you’ve studied. To quickly find the information you need in your notes, you can use Microsoft OneNote or another program such as Microsoft Word. Follow the Learning Matters webpage for exam preparation tips.

Multiple-choice exam in multiple formats

The instructor might decide to conduct tests online just like they would in person, but they also create a “bank of questions” using VIULearn. This requires them to do additional work. Students each receive a sub-set of questions, which limits collaboration. Although it is possible to answer questions in a group or virtually, students will not be able to answer all questions. They would have to answer the entire test instead of the one that was assigned. This means they would have done twice as much work.

Strategy for student preparation

Choose at least one study buddy to make a commitment and help each other with exams. You can learn more if you study together and teach another person the things you have learned. If you have at least one friend in each class, you can increase your chances of socializing and reduce loneliness when you study with another person. Trent University has some additional tips for studying online, open-book exams.

Short-answer tests

Instructors have the ability to set up exams that require students to solve problems or think critically. Short-answer questions are designed to encourage critical thinking and practice. They often include real situations or circumstances that require students to apply knowledge rather than test facts and definitions.

Strategy for student preparation

To be able to apply the concepts and terminology to short answers and cases, you should first learn the terminology. Short-answer testing is a common method of teaching the course. If so, the instructor may have used cases to encourage you to apply concepts. Make sure you review all cases and examples the instructor gives you for homework. Participate in the class, even if you are not marking, and take part in all exercises, cases, and examples. These activities will help you succeed on the test. You can also study with a partner if you don’t know how to apply the knowledge. These tips are from Education Corner to help you prepare for the short answer test.

General tips for exam preparation

These strategies can help you rock your take-home test no matter what type you are writing.

Time management

You can create a schedule that includes your own deadlines for each exam so you don’t have to submit them all on the same day. You can set your own deadlines for each exam so you have time to complete them. Then, do your best to stick to these deadlines. Stress can be relieved by taking control of your time and staying within the limits of what your instructors expect. Positive pressure can be created by setting a deadline for each test and committing to it with a friend. This will help you stay on track. Turn off all notifications when studying or working on an exam for an hour. Or, just completely remove them. Learn more from the Learning Matters site on Manage Time and Concentration.


We may find that we are more reliant on activities that boost our energy, alertness, and positive mood, such as sleep, nutrition, social connections, and activity that gives us joy and belonging when it is crunch time. You can think of yourself not as a doer who has many tasks to accomplish but as a person with a greater potential to perform better if you feel well-fed, happy, and connected. This will help you to bring your best self to every day that you sit down for your take-home exam.

Strategies for studying

Begin by reviewing the learning outcomes for your course, which can be found in your course syllabus. Instructors then create quizzes and tests that measure against these learning outcomes. Learn more on this topic at the Learning Matters Study Skills and Techniques webpage.

Students often forget that their instructor can be a valuable learning resource. Your instructor will be there to help you if you get stuck. Learn more about connecting with instructors at Learning Matters.

Study groups and study buddies are great ways to stay on track. You can ask each other questions or share your knowledge. If your program offers Peer-Supported Learning (PSL), take advantage. PSL is a free, peer-supported study session that provides support and guidance to students.

How to manage anxiety

Learn to manage anxiety and practice calm. You can learn to calm your mind and breathe mindfully by meditating on a daily basis. You can then practice calming down and focusing on the task at hand. You can practice staying in the moment and focusing on the task by learning to silence your mind and to take control of your thoughts. The episode notes of Successful U’s third episode, Handling Stress, contain links and resources.

Good preparation is key to great test-taking skills. This includes talking with your instructors about the expectations regarding test content and format, as well as collaboration on assignments and tests. Stress management, time management, and a variety of study strategies can all help to make the exam experience enjoyable. If you need support, don’t hesitate to contact us. There are many resources and support available.

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