Top tips for taking open book exams 2 - on the day

Posted in: academic skills, exams

If you're taking an online open book exam, you'll need to deal with a number of challenges including maintaining focus and managing your time. This short guide by former Academic Skills Course Leader Tom Reid gives you some strategies to help you succeed in your examination.

Tip 1 - Don't panic!

The first and probably most important thing to remember about online open book exams is that in many ways they can be similar to coursework assignments. The difference is that time is more limited. So you can use all the same skills you've gained during the academic year (and you have way more than you think!) to produce a first class answer.

Tip 2 - Eat before you begin

You may feel too nervous to eat, but you need to feed your brain and ensure your energy levels are high. So make sure you've eaten something (but not too much as that can lead to different problems!) before you start. You could also have a few healthy snacks to hand during the exam, to keep your energy levels high.

Tip 3 - Be ready

  • Make sure your desk area is prepared and organised with notes, pens, paper etc.
  • Choose a room or space where you won't be disturbed. You could pin a notice to your door saying 'EXAM IN PROGRESS - DO NOT DISTURB'.
  • Don't forget a watch or clock to keep an eye on time.

Tip 4 - Exam orientation

Read through your exam paper and work out:

  • How many questions are there?
  • How long should you allow per question (if your exam has a set start and end time)?
  • Where do I start? Start with easiest questions to help build your confidence.

Tip 5 - Question analysis

Before you start writing, it's important to understand what exactly the question is asking you to do. Unpack the question by identifying:

  • The focus - what is the specific topic area you need to address in your answer?  Here you're looking for key words that point directly to this target area.
  • The instruction words - these are the words that tell you exactly what you have to do e.g. discuss/analyse/highlight/compare etc. Make sure you understand the meaning of these terms before you start the exam (see this blog which explains the common terms).
  • The scope/limits - it's also vital to identify how far you need to extend the focus area. In other words, what needs to be included and what doesn't. This will help you avoid including irrelevant content which can waste time and lower your mark.

Tip 6 - Plan your answer

Once you've analysed the question, devise a quick outline of how you'll approach your answer. Think about:

  • Introduction - what to include and the thesis statement
  • Structure - how many paragraphs and how will they link together
  • Focus points to include
  • Relevant theories, arguments, examples
  • Relevant quotes (use sparingly)
  • Your conclusion - implications, critical evaluation.

Taking time to plan your answer will help you stay focused and avoid including irrelevant information.

Tip 7 - Avoid the 'over-answer'

Don't over-use your notes, write too much and get bogged down in too much detail. It's highly likely you're including irrelevant information and you'll run out of time. Stay focused, on topic and include only relevant information presented as concisely and clearly as possible.

Tip 8 - Checks and balances

Make sure you include time at the end to go through and check your work, and edit if necessary.

Things to check may include:

  • missing information - relevant content/range of arguments/sufficient examples/ theory etc
  • irrelevant information - ask yourself: does this connect to my thesis/essay aim?
  • typos /errors
  • structure - is there a logical flow of ideas and line of reasoning? Do paragraphs link together? Is everything clear?
  • conclusion - are implications and overall evaluations included?

Follow these tips to make sure your online open book exam experience is positive and successful.

Posted in: academic skills, exams


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