Unlike usual, this post isn’t about books – or rather, not about novels or recreational books. It does include textbooks, though.
Since we’re in self-quarantine here, all non-essential services are closed, which includes universities and schools all over the country. Many schools are now turning to the internet to maintain their classes online as much as possible, either having their classes live on platforms like zoom, or using panopto and other video conference software to record videos and power point presentations and make them available to their students whenever possible.
If you’re a full-time university student, like me, you’ve probably had to rethink your entire study methods over the past few weeks : online learning is, after all, very different from in-person classes. And with online classes, come… online finals !
So I thought I’d share some of the tips I found useful while preparing for my exams after switching all my classes to online learning.
1. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the exam
Many professors will assume that, since you’re doing the exam online, it makes it an open book exam – meaning, they’ll prepare their exam keeping in mind that you’ll have access to all of the course material when you take the test, and will be able to look for the answer to their questions relatively quickly.
Underestimating the difficulty of the exam is one of the most dangerous mistakes you could make : if you rely too much on having the material at hand when you take the test, and don’t put enough effort into understanding it and making sure you have a good enough comprehension of the class, you’re setting yourself up for failure. However, having the ability to look through your notes and textbooks while you’re writing your answers is an advantage that you should take advantage of !
2. Study guides are, in fact, useful
Making a study guide to keep track of all the course material you need to know to achieve the grade you’re aiming for is a lifesaver. You can use the syllabus your professor gives you at the beginning of the semester (sometimes put online so you can access it at any point during the semester) to give you an idea of the amount of work you’ll have to put in, and when you’ll need to start studying.
If you have textbooks or required reading, printing the documents and putting tabs on the side to note where the important concepts or chapters are will save you a lot of time !
3. Take advantage of your professor’s student hours
A lot of university professors still have their student hours, even while the university campuses are closed. They might answer your questions via email, or a video conference with other students, but this is an important resource you would do well not to neglect : studying on your own, at home, is difficult enough in itself.
If you have any questions about the material that your teacher could clarify for you, using the means at your disposition to contact them and ask for explanation could help you save your grade, and make sure you don’t lose precious knowledge that will be useful during the actual exam.
4. Pay attention to the parameters of the test !
Online exams may be available for up to 24 hours, depending on your teacher’s wishes, but that doesn’t mean you have all this time to think about your answers ! Those hours are here so that all the students can start the test at a time that fits their schedule the most. Once you start the exam, the real countdown begins : that’s the amount of time you’re allotted to actually answer the questions.
If you’re in quarantine in an apartment with one or more other people, you might want to make sure to let them know that they are not to disturb you for the entirety of the time it will take you to pass the test – concerns for plagiarism aside, there is nothing more disheartening than realizing you won’t be able to finish in tie because someone interrupted you with something that could definitely have waited one more half-hour for your attention.
You also want to make sure there’s no ambiguity over how, exactly, you’re going to be evaluated. Is it a multiple choice questions type of test, or will you have to make developed, long thought-out answers ? Does it cover all of the material, or only half the semester ?
5. Make sure your material is working properly
This one may seem pretty self-explanatory, but it’s so frustrating to hit the “send” button, only to discover you didn’t have a properly working internet connection and all your answers have disappeared when you tried to transmit them…
Side-note : this isn’t a made-up scenario : it happened to me last semester, in a multiple choice question online exam with more than a hundred questions. Luckily, I had backed up my answers by writing my choices on a paper while I went through the exam the first time, so I didn’t lose everything. Still, it took me an additional 15 minutes to re-fill the entire form, and that prevented me from being able to double-check my answers before the time limit was up. So, essentially : don’t be like me. Make sure everything works before you start the exam.
Some universities here in Canada are putting everything in place to ensure the success of their students, as best as possible. Mine, for example, offers the option to only have the mention “Success” or “Failure” in your academic file for classes in which you don’t get the grade you hoped for. My brother’s university goes one step further, making the “Failed” mention an automatic “Abandon” mention, thus making sure the results of this crisis don’t alter your GPA in any way.