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Simplify learning for digital written exams with permitted materials am 6. May 2020
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Themen: digital online exam , home-learning

Simplify learning for digital written exams with permitted materials

Through the change to digital written exams, the exam type, too, may change in some cases. This may also mean that you are allowed to use your study materials. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) of the University of Vienna has compiled tips to support you in preparing for these exam situations.

In cases where multiple-choice exams have been announced so far, different exam types may now be introduced that involve working on the exam items for several hours or even days. The use of study materials during the exam may no longer be prohibited but, instead, explicitly permitted. This naturally has an impact on the exam questions and on your learning strategies. Learning by heart continues to decrease in importance while understanding, applying and analysing learning contents come to the fore. Last but not least, the exam venue is new as well: All digital written exams take place on Moodle.

We have compiled some strategies how to best prepare for digital written exams using permitted materials:

Obtain information about changes to the mode of assessment in good time

On u:find you can find binding information about the exam (at least 14 days before the exam date). Pay special attention to the following three points:

  • Duration: The period allowed for working on an online exam may last several hours or even days.
  • Type of assessment: Do you have to write quite a long essay about a specified topic, or do you have to answer several questions directly on Moodle?
  • Permitted materials: In some digital written exams, you are allowed to use your study material.


Six tips on preparing for exams with permitted materials

When preparing for an exam, it is always reasonable to prepare explicitly for the type of exam you will take. Therefore, exams without aids require learning strategies different from exams during which you are allowed to use study material. The following recommendations may be useful:

1. Only pay attention to the headings, introduction and conclusion at first

If you want to get an overview of a broad subject area, your first step should be to screen the headings or the table of contents before actually working on the topics in detail. Headings in particular are often ignored or overlooked entirely. However, they can be very important because they convey the essential aspect or the topic of an entire section in half a sentence. Subsequently, read the introduction and conclusion before finally reading the full text.

2. Visualise links between content with mind maps

Questions in exams usually do not focus on an individual topic but require you to link different fields of knowledge. Therefore, the ability to create links between different topics is a crucial element of learning that focuses on comprehension. A simple visualisation technique is the creation of mind maps:

  • Subdivide the topic into essential sub-topics and write them down on a piece of paper or on your computer.
  • Visualise relations between contents and connections, for example with lines.
  • Add important information to sub-topics or relations by using keywords.
  • Colours and frames help you to structure the mind map visually.

3. Make your own summary of the entire content you have to learn

A summary prepared by yourself is much more useful than another person’s summary given to you. This is because you already have to structure the content you have to learn in your mind and understand it in order to write a clear summary.

  • Do not copy and paste set phrases from the text but use your own words.
  • References to books or pages turn the summary into a useful table of contents for extensive study materials, even if they refer to different books or media.

4. Continuously note down questions about the content you have to learn

Do not only test your knowledge of facts but also question the content of the text. Write down open questions even while reading the content for the first time. For example:

  • What are relevant practical areas of application for this method?
  • How did this development occur?
  • What are potential alternatives?
  • Why is this historical subject area still relevant in my discipline today?
  • Afterwards, check whether you can answer your own questions about the text. You can really benefit from this technique if you discuss your questions not only by yourself but with other students in (online) study groups.
  • Do not be discouraged if you are not able to answer all questions right at the beginning. Try to do targeted research to find the missing answers.

5. Explain an extensive subject area to another person in your own words

If you succeed in conveying a comprehensive topic in few words to a person not knowledgeable about or trained in the related field in a way so that they can understand the topic, you prove to yourself that you have understood the topic in its entirety.

6. Take a mock exam with other students

You can simulate a realistic exam ‘rehearsal’ together with other students. This can be especially useful for the yet unfamiliar digital format.

  • Prepare (alone or in teams) a document containing rather authentic exam questions for the exam simulation based on the information on u:find. Also prepare the respective sample solutions. This step already constitutes a perfect preparation for the exam since you are intensively studying the exam content while also dealing with the type of exam.
  • At the same time, a separate team (or an individual) independently prepares a document with a different exam simulation and the respective sample solutions.
  • At an agreed time, you can exchange the exam questions and answer them as part of the exam simulation (during the specified time period). This step is very helpful to get used to the relevant type of exam to be expected.
  • Return the finished version of your mock exam to the other team before the end of the specified time period.
  • Evaluate the answers given by the other teams. Subsequently, provide mutual feedback on the exam performance. As a next step, discuss the wording of the exam questions as well as the sample solutions provided.
  • Used correctly, this so-called peer feedback can help you in two ways: Firstly, your colleagues may point out mistakes in your own work, and secondly, you have to thoroughly revise the exam content when critically reflecting on your colleague’s performance.
  • As non-verbal signs are lost in text-based communication, please take special care to give constructive and concrete feedback and be polite and respectful towards each other.


What else should I consider?

1. Pay attention to the time available to take the exam: Hours or days?

  • Duration: One hour or several hours

This type of exam consists of assignments to be completed within a few hours. At first glance it may seem easier to write an exam making use of all your study materials. Bear in mind, though, that you may become pressed for time. Therefore, it is crucial that you know and have prepared your study materials well to avoid wasting precious time by searching for relevant sections in the text.

When pressed for time during the exam, your own summary (see above) can be very helpful. You can find content created by yourself much faster than content in another person’s summary.

  • Duration: One day or several days

If an exam lasts for several days, you may not feel pressed for time at first. Nevertheless, you have to make arrangements for concentrated work on the topic and divide the available time into phases of working and breaks. Make sure to schedule enough buffer time to be able to submit your exam in due time even in case of unforeseen events.

2. Obtain information about how to avoid plagiarism in advance

Your exam answers may occasionally be checked for plagiarism using a plagiarism detection software. Plagiarism may result in failing the exam. Therefore, familiarise yourself with the required correct use of literature, e.g. whether you can use direct quotations and how to quote them, well before the exam.

Good luck. 🤞

Remote learning


Teaching at the University of Vienna will take place in the form of remote learning until presumably 30 June 2020 due to SARS CoV-2.

Information about what this entails and how we can make the most of the period of remote learning together is available for prospective and current students here.


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