Strategies for acing a take-home exam
Maybe your school or district is now turning to take-home exams. Perhaps your college or university has decided to have you write exams at home. Awesome, right? You'll have your notes and be able to write in the comfort of your home. But remember: it's still an exam and you'll still want to prepare. So here are strategies to make sure you ace those take-home exams!
The Main Elements of a Take-Home Exam
Exams differ from subject to subject, and sometimes they're much more important for one field than they are for others. Some educators think that exams are the most important thing ever, and other educators hate exams. However, many people are turning to take-home exams right now as a way to assess student achievement because everyone is forced to learn remotely due to COVID19.
Educators will administer take home exams in different ways but in most cases they will:
- be open book with notes allowed, and
- have some timed element.
A take home exam differs from an in-person exam because the stress of memorising a large amount of information is largely gone. But with the timed element, either timing through an online portal or a quick turn around from when the time the exam is shared to when it is due, means that the stakes are still just as high.
Because your instructors know that you don't need to memorise details, they will expect more from you in a take-home exam setting than in an in-person one.
Below are some tried and true strategies to help you succeed on take-home exams - whether it's for a qualification or due to COVID19 or simply because your instructors like take home exams!
Short Answer Take-Home Exam Questions & Strategies
We've listed three of the most common short take-home exam questions and some strategies to master them if and when they appear on your take-home exams.
Multiple Choice Exam Questions
- Write many practice questions of this type. If your text book has practice tests, use them! If there are previous exams from previous years, use them! If there are online practice versions of this test, use them!
- Study both the big ideas as well as some of the smaller details. Pay attention to relationships, similarities, and differences between and amongst various ideas. How are things similar to or different from one an other?
- Study sections of the material and then write concepts out in your own words. People always say that you never learn something so well as when you have to teach it, so if you put the concepts into your own words to explain it to someone else you'll remember it better for the exam.
- Read exam questions CAREFULLY! Often the trick to being successful on multiple choice questions is to read the nuance in the question, and then choose the very best answer out of a selection which may have a number that are technically correct or okay answers. Choose the best one by paying attention to the details.
True/False Exam Questions
- Read true/false questions VERY CAREFULLY. Often the "devil is in the details" with these types of questions. For something to be true, all the details of the question/statement must be true. If one of the details is untrue, then the whole statement would be false.
- Pay attention to qualifying words. Often a statement that is an absolute - the sky is always blue! - is false, but with qualifiers it will be true - when the sun shines, the sky is quite often blue! In this sentence "quite" is a qualifier.
- Look closely at the use of negatives. Remember that a double negative means a positive. For example, "it is not unfair to ask trick questions" means "it is fair to ask trick questions."
Fill in the Blanks Exam Questions
- When making your own notes, leave out key words. Write sentences, and leave out the dates or the names of important people. Then go back and see if you can fill in those blanks in your own notes. In most cases, you'll be typing your notes, so type up a full set of notes, and then go through and cut out these key words (dates, names, etc.) and paste them in another document as you go along. Then you'll have one document with blanks, and one with the answers. Take a break and go back and test yourself!
- Pick out what you think are the most important details in your notes; they are likely the ones that will be needed to fill in the blanks.
- Check your text books for interesting bits of trivia. Sometimes instructors like to have quirky details that you wouldn't otherwise expect.
Long Answer Take-Home Exam Questions & Strategies
Most long answer take-home exam questions are essay-type responses. There are a few ways to be successful at these.
- Write out practice essays. Time yourself. Set a practice essay question. Start writing. See how far you get.
- Prepare outlines for a number of essay questions that you think are likely to appear on your take-home exam. That way you've done the brainstorming and organising work in advance.
- Pay close attention to key words in the essay question. If the question has something like "compare," "discuss," "analyse," "justify," etc. in the question, you need to make sure that you are doing what the question asks in your essay response.
- Make sure that the thesis of your essay gets at the main idea that the essay question is asking. While any good essay question likely offers options for many sub topics to be explored, you want to make sure that your essay focuses on what your instructor wants. Avoid going off on random tangents.
- Spend around a fifth of your time organising and outlining before you start writing. As a rough guide, students should be able to write a 500-word essay in around 40 minutes total, which means around 8 minutes should be spent in the pre-writing, planning stage. Here's an article breaking down how to write a 500-word essay in 40 minutes.
Getting the Timing Right!
Whether you are writing a take-home exam filled with long-answer essay questions or one with short answer questions or one with a mix of both, it will be important to watch your timing. If your instructor is giving you three days for a take-home exam, then that means that they are expecting you to take your time and think through your responses quite closely. Their standards will be higher than if they had only given you one hour. So don't leave this take-home exam until the last minute!
On the other hand, if your take-home exam is only available within a short window of time, make sure that you organise it properly so that you set a time limit for each section and move along promptly.
So a take-home exam offers an opportunity to show off what you know and write in the comfort of your home and your pyjamas! Just be organised, be calm, and good luck!
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