Online exam day tips

For many students sitting an exam online will be a new experience. How do you make sure it’s productive and stress is minimal?

Getting ready

  • Start your day relaxed. Allow plenty of time to get yourself ready to start your exam on time.
  • Eat something. Enjoy a healthy meal before your exam. Anything with protein and complex carbohydrates, such as an egg on toast or muesli, will give you the energy you need to get through your exam. Keep some healthy snacks at hand to maintain your energy levels.
  • Communicate positively. Avoid reading about other students’ worries on social media as this may reduce your confidence. Keep the focus of conversations on something neutral or positive, like on what you are all looking forward to doing after the exam.
  • Dress for success. Though it can be tempting to complete your online exams in your pyjamas, you will feel more focused if you dress in comfortable clothing that you would usually wear to class.

If you feel tense or anxious

  • Keep things in perspective. A little anxiety is healthy before an exam because exams are important, and they matter to you. Tell yourself that it’s okay and you can get through it.
  • Going for a brisk walk or doing some other exercise can help can reduce muscle tension. Moving your fingers and toes will keep muscles loose; deep breathing can reduce anxiety.
  • Relaxation techniques can help you to focus. Try some of the following:
  • If you've had a bad experience in an exam before, this may make you more anxious. Try practicing some grounding techniques to draw you back into the present place and time.

One common grounding technique is to think of five things you can see in your immediate surrounds, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

Reading time

  • Read the instructions very carefully and work out how many questions you need to answer.
  • Scan through the entire exam or section to get an understanding of what topics are being examined.
  • Calculate the time you can spend on each answer relative to its mark value. For example, if question 1 is worth 20% of the marks for a 3-hour paper, you should spend approximately 35 minutes on it.
  • Allocate time to review. check your answers after completing all questions in a section and before submission.
  • Decide which questions are best to attempt. If you can choose between questions to answer, skim the exam again and note down the ones you feel most confident in answering. Then go back and read through these questions.
  • Decide the order in which you will respond. A general rule is to attempt the ones worth most marks reasonably early.
  • Start with questions that seem easiest to you. Leave the ones you are least sure about until last; you may remember theories and get some ideas about answering them along the way.

Writing time

  • Carefully analyse questions before answering by asking yourself:
    • What directive words (e.g. describe, explain, compare, contrast, analyse, etc.) are included?
    • Can the question be broken down into parts?
    • Can I restate it in simpler terms?
    • How does this question relate to the semester’s work?
    • What information is provided?
    • Are there any clues to the answer in this question or paper?
  • Highlight or write down key formulae, terms and theories covered in the subject and note which questions you will apply them to.
  • Process your ideas and plan your response. It’s a good idea to brainstorm ideas and write a brief outline of your answer for each question before you begin writing detailed responses. This may help focus your writing if your concentration wanes over time, as you can refer back to your outline.
  • Answer all parts of the question. Be aware that essay, long response or short answer questions can contain parts. For example, ‘How and why are contemporary romantic films different from those of the classic Hollywood period?’  Requires an answer that discusses both ‘How’ and ‘why’.
  • Stick to your allocated time for each answer – if you get stuck, move on. If, despite your best efforts, you run out of time, jot down notes on how you would have answered the question. Bullet point form is fine at this stage.
  • Answer all questions don’t leave any blank. Write down anything you can think of related to the question or select the answer you think is most correct.
  • Make sure written answers are legible and that photos of your responses are clear. Examiners are under time constraints. If they struggle to read your answers, you may not get all the marks you deserve.
  • Take time to pause and refocus if you are finding the exam stressful. It can help to stop for a minute, drink some water or get out of your chair and stretch before tackling the rest of the exam.

After the exam

Nothing you do after the exam will change your mark, so don’t dwell on or agonise over ‘what you could have done’. Do something you will enjoy.

After you’ve had a break, however, it’s worth reviewing your performance.

Reflecting on your responses to the following questions can help you identify where you could improve your results next time.

  • Were you sufficiently prepared?
  • Which areas of exam revision could you improve?
  • Was stress management an issue?
  • Did you manage your time in the exam effectively?

Also, after exams have been marked, it may be useful to work with a tutor, other students or an Academic Skills adviser to identify where you could have gained extra marks.

What will your exam strategy be next time?

Things to consider

Consider the following if they apply to you:

Final tip

Consider how putting some of these tips into practice during this exam period can support you meeting your academic goals. Remember that organising course materials, setting up a study space and using time effectively during your exam helps minimise stress and enhance productivity.

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