Whether you're getting ready to take your first final exam as an online degree student or your last, everyone can use a few test-taking tips.

Kelly Schuttig, a management instructor in Saint Leo University's Donald R. Tapia School of Business, understands well what it's like to be an online student.

While she was enrolled in Saint Leo's online business administration-management program -- and then the university's online MBA program -- she was working full time as a school bookkeeper and raising two young boys. After completing her degrees, she came to Saint Leo as a program analyst in the Dean's Office in the School of Business.

Today, Schuttig teaches management classes both online and at University Campus. In addition, she is pursuing a doctorate in project management – once again, online.

So it's safe to say that Schuttig has been on both the giving – and the receiving – sides of online exams.

"The first few tests that I had to take as an online degree student were pretty stressful because I didn't know exactly what to expect," she says. "But after a few, I got used to taking exams online and that helped me stay calm."

Online vs. in-class exams

Is there any difference in difficulty between online exams and traditional classroom exams?

Generally speaking, online courses are rigorous and because online students work independently and are more self-reliant, online exams may be more challenging, says Kelly.

Other similarities and differences between online and in-class exams are fairly apparent. Both test a student's comprehension of the material covered, are timed, and may take a variety of formats – essay, short-answer, multiple choice, etc. While online students have the flexibility to take their exams at times that suit their schedules – and in locations of their own choosing – they must still complete their exams by specific deadlines.

The truth behind an open-book exam

According to Dr. Tammy Zacchilli, associate professor of psychology who teaches courses for both the on-ground and online psychology degree programs at Saint Leo, even if an online final exam is an open-book/open-note format, that doesn't guarantee an easy A.

In fact, open-book tests may be more difficult.

"Exams where students can use their textbooks or notes are still timed exams. So if you're not well prepared – if you don't know the material – you may spend too much time searching for answers," says Dr. Zacchilli.

"In addition, open-book exams typically focus on questions where students must use their critical-thinking skills and apply the knowledge they gained from the course. To do that requires a thorough understanding of the material."

Secret to success: be prepared

Dr. Zacchilli's best advice for doing well on a final exam in an online course?

Be prepared.

"Ask the professor questions throughout the term to clarify understanding immediately. Watch all of the audio-visual presentations in the modules and take careful notes. And above all, read all the content. There's never an excuse for saying, 'I didn't understand the question.'"

In addition to staying on top of course assignments, spend time reviewing before the exam. Having a structured plan eliminates cramming. Self-testing is a good idea by creating your own quizzes, using notecards or a free app such as Quizlet.

Tips for success

While preparation is key to success, here are some additional tips that may help you overcome any exam jitters and do well on your online exams.

Before the exam

  • Plan to take the exam early. Don't wait until 10 p.m. if it's due by midnight – just in case you have technology challenges.
  • Be physically ready. Be well rested and eat something healthy an hour or two before the exam.
  • Select a quiet place to take the exam where you will not be interrupted and where there are no distractions. (No coffee shops.)
  • Make certain that everyone in the family knows you're taking an exam; hang a "do not disturb" sign on your door.
  • Make sure the room is not too warm.
  • A desk and straight-back chair is best.
  • Use a familiar computer.
  • Check your computer for the latest updates before exam day.
  • Close all other browser windows and applications.
  • Put your phone away -- far away.
  • Turn off all distracting activities such as instant messaging and social media.
  • Turn off your email.
  • Have everything you need ready before you start, including water.
  • Give yourself plenty of elbow room: organize your space.

During the exam

  • When you start, look over the exam, read the directions twice, and organize your time.

  • Save your answers as you progress through the exam.
  • Pace yourself and keep track of time.
  • Write your short-answer or essay questions in a word document that you can save and then copy and paste into the exam.
  • Keep the situation in perspective. Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Plan to reward yourself, even in a small way, when the exam is over.

Test anxiety resources

While a certain degree of nervousness before an exam is normal, test anxiety can be detrimental. If you experience an inordinate amount of stress before exams, here are some resources to help you cope. Online students are also welcome to reach out to Saint Leo University Counseling Services.

Test anxiety: Why it is increasing and 3 ways to curb it, The Washington Post

Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress, ADAA

Test Anxiety Tips, Hagerstown Community College

Is it possible to overcome test anxiety, Mayo Clinic

Do you have any tips for succeeding at an online exam?

Image credits: Dima SideInikov on Shutterstock.com and Giphy.com

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