Taking final exams online: a survival guide

Exam season is known for being stressful, but with the added challenge of online tests, many students have been left worried and wondering what they should do to prepare.

History senior Sarah Riddle said she always feels apprehensive about finals because she often wonders if she missed something once she’s turned it in.

Because her finals tend to veer toward essays and term papers, she tries to space her studying out over a period of a few weeks to avoid cramming and all-nighters.

For writing-focused majors like hers, Riddle recommends getting in contact with students or professors to go over concepts you don’t understand and to get peer reviews and edits on your paper.

Online exams are different from in-person exams because of the different testing styles in each class, Riddle said. In her Spanish class, finals are the same, where students are recorded and prohibited from looking up answers on the internet. But other finals are taken at home where they can be open-book and open-note, which can mess with a student’s study habits, she said.

One way Riddle recommends students study for finals is to not wait until the last minute. She sometimes sees students at the I.D.E.A.S. center who come for a final prep before class without having studied days before.

Reach out to students in your class and form a study group via video, phone call or a meeting at the library, Riddle said.

“Just talk about it because a lot of times that helps with the memorization,” she said.

Students should be able to bounce ideas off of each other, and if they’re struggling, they don’t have to study alone. Riddle also said students don’t have to study the same way.

When people give tips that don’t seem like they’ll work, that may mean the student has a different way of maintaining information and learning, she said, so find what works for you.

As a graduating senior, Riddle said she now knows that testing anxiety is normal, and this year, she’s finally excited and looking forward to her finals.

Aileen Sengupta, electrical engineering graduate student, is also excited about her final exams because the final is a revision of all the concepts she’s learned in class.

She gets to summarize the entire coursework she selected for her degree program, something Sengupta enjoys. But she also knows that exams are scary for a lot of students who don’t know what kind of questions to expect, she said.

Sengupta said she has a schedule for mornings when she studies for finals. She does meditation, eats healthy weeks or months before her exams and plans according to what her subjects are.

“Be honest with yourself on which subjects are kind of weaker and which subjects are kind of strong,” she said.

Sengupta said while she has in-person exams for all her current courses, she has seen a big difference between online and in-person finals. She has seen two kinds of students: ones that are very comfortable with online learning and ones that are not.

The ones who prefer online learning don't want to leave their home, like to stay in their pajamas, take their exams and then go to sleep. The second kind likes to have friends and classmates around, not to cheat but for support, she said.

Some recommendations Sengupta has for studying is to acknowledge finals are scary. It’s a panicky and serious situation, she said.

Then, students should keep the materials they’ve read in mind while communicating with professors. Students can also go to friends or peers in their class and form a study group, she said.

For online finals, Sengupta said to test electronic devices with friends for a few minutes to make sure video and audio are working.

She recommends preparing cheat sheets and notes if allowed, and taking breaks when needed. If a student is studying a big passage four or five pages long, they should make sure they take breaks to digest the information, she said.

“Sometimes you need to divert your mind,” she said.

For her, solving sudoku or other puzzles or switching to a different subject can help Sengupta when she takes breaks. She said it trains her mind to think and organize better.

Changing rooms or positions can also help break up the boredom of studying, she said.

Erica Gott, Academic Success Center tutor coordinator, said in an email that students are usually anxious, scared and excited about finals week, but they should already have a sense of the format for the final exam from previous tests. This gives them a point of reference when starting to prepare, she said.

Studying online isn’t that different from in-person studying. The only difference is that students aren’t sitting next to each other, Gott said.

Studying online can actually be less stressful because you aren’t feeding off other students’ stress, she said. Still, anxiety can understandably increase with online exams and depending on whether the test is synchronous or asynchronous.

Some general ways Gott said students can study for finals is by connecting with classmates and sharing notes, using the Academic Service Center and contacting faculty and teaching assistants for office hours.

Gott said as an academic resource, the center does their best to accommodate in-person sessions.

A five-day study plan is a great tool and can help with a student’s own notes in addition to what is provided by the professor, she said. Just reading PowerPoint slides and notes is not an effective way to study.

Students must engage with the material to understand it by creating objectives and aiming to fulfill them, Gott said. Students should break material into chunks, starting with the beginning of the semester and going through to the latest material.

“Cramming everything at once, and last-minute, is a recipe for disaster,” she said.

Gott recommends finding somewhere quiet and comfortable, without distractions and with good internet connection both for studying and the final exam.

“When it’s time to take the test, it’s important to settle in and take it with confidence,” she said.



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