Assessments and exams from home

Amy Wells

Amy Wells is a recent graduate and member of the Student Advisory Committee. She finished her term as Welfare Officer at Leeds University Union last year and now works for the National Survivor User Network.

If you’re a university student right now, chances are you’ve had traditional ‘exams’ cancelled but you’ve still got various forms of assessment left to complete.

You’re trying to keep focussed on these but it’s more than a bit weird, isn’t it - how do you get through assessments in a global pandemic?

You’re not alone!

​If you feel a bit left in the dark, start by trying to talk to your peers if you haven’t already. Do you have a Whatsapp or Teams group for the module or unit, or can you find contact details for the relevant Support or Administrative member of staff who could help set one up?

This way you can find out what everyone else is doing to prepare for specific assessments or open book “exams” and helps highlight where there might be a question you should seek clarity on from your School.

Are you bored of hearing about having a routine yet?

That routine everyone’s banging on about is really, really important for both your productivity and mental health.

Plan your week, include specified breaks (pop to your doorstep for fresh air, get a cuppa), and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to it exactly. Things like the pomodoro method of studying really work for some people. Short blocks of varied activity in general seem to be a good way of trying to structure a studying routine.

How do you prepare for an online assessment like an open book, timed exam?

  • Make sure you take advantage of the ability to have your own notes - try to process them into a condensed pack of revision cards or a mini booklet, reducing the need for other textbooks and materials. Think bullet points, diagrams, highlighters...
  • Make sure you’ve got clarity beforehand on what type of referencing is expected of you.
  • Write a rough plan of any answer before starting.
  • Remember that for most disciplines, especially for longer answers, try to give not just factual or descriptive information; be analytical and evaluative.
  • Prepare a space and think about your sitting position, noise, temperature, and distractions (i.e. social media). In some cases the submission window is very long, but you are not expected to spend all this time writing; it’s to allow for issues with technology and different time zones, and to give you more flexibility.

It’s no longer a memory test, which is great, but they test other skills and you don’t want to be reading material for the first time in the exam itself, so it’s important to still prepare! During the assessment, if you get stressed, interrupted or distracted, take a break. Move away from the screen and stretch.

Have to work in a group?

  • Make sure you make life easier for yourselves by establishing early on how you’re going to communicate - what works best for all of you, Teams, Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp?
  • Can you set regular check-in times, using something like doodlepoll to figure out when everyone’s free?
  • Do you know who your contact is for the piece of coursework so that you can raise any concerns you have over progress?

Remember that online meetings can get tiring so feel no pressure to always have the camera on, shared collaborative files like Google Docs can be a better option sometimes. Find out how to master the Google Doc.

Why should I try to motivate myself to keep working?

It might be that your university has a no-detriment or ‘safety net’ policy, and while this helps ease some anxiety about performance being affected by the pandemic, it can lower motivation to complete work. Just keep in mind that often you still need to complete these pieces of work to a passable standard, but also that it’s usually the case that your marks can improve your overall grade, so it’s still worth giving them the best shot you can manage in the current circumstances.

These are far from the usual exam conditions.

Please remember that you are not expected to perform to the usual standard, and that it is okay for your productivity to waver in the run-up to assessments.

Remember the positives, such as that you are no longer bound by the expectations on your “working hours” and can work to the tune of your own circadian rhythm (I do not believe I was more than 60% awake in any 2-hour 9 am exam I’ve ever sat), or you might be like me and found the exam hall really intimidating and anxiety-inducing (I used to dream of doing an exam while still wrapped in my dressing gown!).

Just try to draw a line between uni time and non-uni time - you can try stuff like storing all your uni materials in a box and put it away when not studying or completing assessments to help distinguish a distinct study time and space.

I’m dealing with other difficulties that make it hard to study or do exams…

Though lots of universities are trying to “blanket” mitigate for the detrimental impacts of COVID-19 on study this year, they recognise that additional support or adjustments will be needed for lots of students. Maybe you have caring responsibilities, are facing financial hardship, or don’t have the right access to the right resources. This will usually be covered by your universities’ extenuating or mitigating circumstances process - make sure you know what it is and how to apply for things like special consideration or extensions.

It’s always best to get in touch with a Tutor or Support Officer as soon as you can to log your individual circumstances. You can usually access your Student Union’s advice or information service too which can help you figure all of this out.

Find support at your university

Best of luck, look after yourselves above your grades, and ask for help when you need it. Your questions and concerns are very valid.