Preparing for exams

Ryan Banow, education development specialist with Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning, discusses how exams will be different during remote learning.

This article was originally posted in December 2020.


How will exams look different this year?  

This year, exams will most likely be written online through course tools or take home. If it is a timed exam it may consist of a bank of questions being presented in a random order.  

Another common way they may look different is that the instructor may have chosen to focus on asking a small number of higher-level questions. This change should impact your approach to studying.  

Memorization strategies will not prepare you to answer these types of questions.  

Your instructor may also have decided to switch from a timed exam to a take-home exam that can be completed over a longer period. 

How can these changes benefit students?  

If there is a shift to a smaller number of higher-level questions, this is beneficial because you can be confident that you are being assessed on what you understand and have learned. These questions provide you with a much better opportunity to demonstrate your learning. This should also shift your approach to course work and studying. This leads to longer term retention of the content.  

This type of assessment has greater alignment with contexts outside of school. Most workplaces will not expect you to memorize and recall several facts; instead, they will expect you to be able to apply what you have learned to new situations. That is exactly what exams this year are preparing you to be able to do. 

What are some of the challenges students may face with exams? 

There are several: 

  • You may be unsure of how to find and operate the exam functions online. You should ask your instructor for as many details as possible around where to find the exam, when it will be available, how long will it be available, will it auto-submit, will it auto-save, and so on. If possible, request that a practice or mock exam of the same style be provided in advance.
  • You may have internet connection issues when writing your exam. You should restart your computer right before the exam and either use a wired internet connection or move as close as possible to your wireless access point. It’s better to be safe than sorry! 
  • Sometimes there are web browser issues. If you do have issues, send a message to your instructor immediately while providing as much detail (course, question #, student number, web browser) and evidence as possible. 
  • You may be unsure of how to study for exams that require application and other forms of higher-level thinking. Visit Student Learning Services and talk to peers in your classes for ideas and strategies. 

What are some of the challenges professors face with the changes?

Most professors are not used to delivering exams remotely and creating exams in which students have access to course materials. They’re are working hard to come up with alternative assessment and question styles and learning the ins-and-outs of assessing in Canvas and Blackboard.  

In some cases, mistakes around settings may be made. If you find something that doesn’t seem to be set up correctly, let them know and provide as much detail and evidence as possible.  

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