Preparing for online assessment

In this post, the Learning Development team, who run the Academic Success Centre and Study+ on Canvas, offer advice on preparing for assessments which have been moved online. We cover pre-exam preparation, planning for the assessment period and what to do during the exams itself, as well as who you can speak to if you’d like to talk to someone about preparing for assessments.  

Pre-exam preparation

Even though the format of your assessment will have changed, it’s still important that you prepare for the exam period in the usual way. Aim to revise the course content well in advance, so that you can go into exams feeling confident that you know what material might come up. Even if you are not doing time-constrained exams, and may be allowed to consult resources during the assessment window itself, you won’t have enough time to learn new information, apply it, and write a convincing assessment answer within the exam period itself. Make sure you revise as fully for these exams as you would for any others.

Most people find it helpful to prepare a revision plan some weeks before the exams themselves. Make sure you know what topics each exam might cover, and then think about how confident you feel about each topic, and how much time you have available to revise each one. Create a schedule for each week in which you plan which topics you’re going to study and when – doing so now can help manage anxiety around how much content you need to cover, as you break it down into manageable chunks. This resource from the University of Liverpool has lots of advice on preparing for online assessment, and in particular the section on creating a study plan may be useful to you at this point.

When creating a revision schedule, always remember to schedule ‘downtime’, including exercise, self-care and family/ social time. These are all vital for staying healthy during the exam period. Try not to block out every hour and day in your calendar with planned revision activities, but instead leave some free space each week to catch up on things you haven’t finished, reflect on what’s worked well, and ‘re-revise’ any topics that have proved more difficult than expected.

During the assessment period

It’s worth taking some time to think through your schedule during the assessment period itself, particularly if it’s going to be unlike any assessments you’ve done before.

You will have at least a 24-hour window during which to choose when to take your assessment. This is to accommodate the varying time zones, technological resources, and home-study set ups of all the students on your course. Depending on the format of your exam, it may be that you choose your start time within the 24-hour window and then have a fixed period (e.g. 2.5hours) immediately following this start time in which to complete your work. For other types of assessment, you may be able to read the questions at the start of the 24-hour window and then be free to work on them at any time during the window, provided your answers are submitted on time. However, this doesn’t mean you should spend 24 hours doing the work! For long answer or essay-style questions your programme team will give you a word count to indicate how much detail they expect in your answers, which will help you figure out how long to spend on them. This shouldn’t be significantly longer than you would spend in a more conventional exam, and certainly shouldn’t take longer than a normal working day.

Try thinking through the following questions in order to feel prepared for the assessment period:

  • When in the window will you access the assessment? Is there a time of day when you work best, and/ or when your home life is most conducive to unbroken concentration?
  • What exactly are you being asked to do in the exam? Check that you’re fully aware of the instructions (i.e. how long you have to submit your response, and how long it should be) in advance.
  • How does the online system work? You should be given the opportunity to do a ‘practice run’, possibly completing a general knowledge quiz or similar, before the assessment itself. Ask your programme team if you have any doubts about this process.
  • Who will you contact if you have any difficulties during the assessment period? Have the contact details for IT support on hand, as well as your programme team.
  • What can you be doing to make sure you’re in the best possible frame of mind when you complete the exam? Think about how you’ll plan your day to make sure you’ve eaten well, rested well, and feel physically fit to concentrate.

During the exam

During the exam, be ready to apply the usual time management strategies and exam techniques you would in an in-person exam. For example, know how many questions you need to answer, how many marks are available for each, and how you plan to divide up your time to ensure you don’t spend too long on any one section. If there are different sections covering different topics, will you prefer to start on those you’re most confident on, to build momentum, or those which are trickiest, and may be freshest in your mind from last-minute revision? Do you have time to read through all of the questions before you start answering, or will you be up against the clock, and needing to keep a very strict eye on time?

If you’re not sure of an answer, or if you have a choice of questions and don’t know which one to go with, you may find it useful to jot down some ideas next to each question to help you decide. Be careful with how long you spend on this, but do allow yourself some time to plan answers as this will save you from waffling and mean more efficient use of your time overall.

If you are doing any work outside of the main submission portal (e.g. in a Microsoft Word document) remember to save this regularly or make sure auto-save is turned on. Alternatively, have some note paper next to your device so that you can jot thoughts down separately from the assessment itself.

Try to leave at least 10% of the exam time free at the end, for you to review your answers. This is important for proofreading of long answers, and checking you’ve followed all the correct procedures for shorter questions, i.e. that you haven’t missed out any questions or ticked any wrong boxes along the way. This is where you can get easy marks from rectifying simple mistakes, so it’s definitely worth saving time for!

If you’d like to speak to somebody outside of your programme about preparing for assessment, one-to-one appointments with the learning development team are available via Microsoft Teams. Click here to book, or visit Study+ on Canvas for more information.