Are you a new online student? Has it been a few years since you took online classes? Or, do you have some experience with computer-based distance learning?

No matter which of these categories you may fall under, there are some strategies you can use to improve your test-taking skills – and ultimate results on these exams or quizzes – to help you become a better student when completing tests for your online courses. Consider the following tips.

1. Find out every detail of what the exam involves.

Exams can vary greatly from class to class and professor to professor. Some are entirely made up of multiple-choice questions, while others require short answers or even fairly lengthy essay responses. Plus, some professors offer "open book" exams, allowing students to reference notes or textbooks, while others require students to take online tests at designated sites on campus or at a library.

Based on your class syllabus and any other information you can glean from your professor or classmates, try to find out the format of the exam and what you should expect. This will help you prepare more effectively for tackling the questions once you click "Start" and begin seeing each part of the exam on your computer screen. If anything is unclear prior to the exam, don't hesitate to call or e-mail your instructor and ask specifically about what you want to know. The worst-case scenario is that you get a "no comment" to any questions.

2. Make sure you're using a computer that is in working condition.

We all know that technology does not always work as it's intended to work. While glitches can happen unexpectedly, you should still try to ensure your computer or other pieces of technology needed for an exam are in good working order.

To be confident in your machine, consider:

  • Checking your Internet connection (and choosing a reliable Wi-Fi network)
  • Completing any updates to your computer so that they won't interfere with your exam
  • Restarting your computer right before the exam to be certain it is functioning at an optimal speed
  • Avoiding opening any other programs or windows aside from the exam window and a word processor or other software you need to use for the exam
  • Ensuring your battery is fully charged if you're using a laptop that is not plugged in


It probably goes without saying, but this may be the most important tip on this list. You should take any online exam in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Turn off the TV and the notifications on your iPhone. Use a home office or bedroom. Wear noise-canceling headphones. If you can't get away from noises or distractions, consider finding a local library.

If you do take the exam at home, make sure anyone you live with is aware of your need for peace and quiet. (You should even be sure your pooch isn't provoked to bark or cause a ruckus.)

4. Have all materials at your fingertips if you're allowed.

Assuming you're able to reference certain notes for some of your online exams, it's a must to organize all of this information well in advance of your exam. When test day rolls around, or whenever you choose to complete the exam if you have that option, be sure to have everything in front of you on your desk. Print out materials if possible so you can easily look up certain things and won't have to be clicking through folders on your computer. Highlight the most important aspects of your notes, and be sure that you can find what you need on each topic covered.

5. Pace yourself.

Many online exams have that little countdown clock in the corner of the window, much like the clock you'll see on TV for New Year's Eve. But don't let it stress you out. If you pace yourself and work on the questions you know well enough before you get to the tougher ones, this should give you more time to complete those that require some extra thinking or research.

6. Set an alarm if you need it.

Speaking of time, using some type of alarm can help you know when you have various amounts of time left to finish your test so that you don't have to take your eyes off the questions. For example, set an alarm for 30 minutes, 15 minutes, and 5 minutes before the end of a timed exam.

7. Save all of your answers in a separate file.

While exam formats can vary, it's a wise idea to save your answers to the exam questions in a Word document or other file. For example, if you have to write responses to questions in a test box, the last thing you'd want to happen is for your computer to freeze and then lose the work you've completed. The same goes for notating your answers to multiple-choice or true-false questions in case your web browser closes inadvertently.

Plus, if you have technical issues submitting your exam, you can always send a Word file to your professor with your answers to show that you did indeed finish the test and were responsible enough to save this work. Consequently, saving your answers can help you review the exam after it is graded.

8. Review the process to improve it in the future.

Upon completion of an online exam, spend a few minutes jotting down notes about the entire experience. Which methods helped you and worked well? What could you do better next time to help you save time or be more comfortable?