Using learning materials is explicitly permitted in certain types of digital exams. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has compiled tips to support you in preparing for these exam situations.
In these types of exams, using study materials during the exam may no longer be prohibited but, instead, explicitly permitted. Learning by heart is less important, while understanding, applying and analysing learning contents come to the fore. In this blog entry, you can find some strategies on how to best prepare for digital written exams using permitted materials.
Obtain information about the mode of assessment in good time
Due to unforeseeable circumstances, the mode of assessment may change even during the semester. You can find binding information about the exam and the mode of assessment on u:find at least 14 days before the exam date. Pay special attention to the following three points:
- Type of assessment: What is expected? 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 aids and study materials: Are you allowed to use aids and, if yes, which ones?
- Duration: The period allowed for working on an online exam may last several hours or even days. Bear in mind that you may become pressed for time, even if you are allowed to use study materials. Therefore, it is crucial that you know and have prepared your study materials well (see below). 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.
Obtain information in advance about how to avoid plagiarism
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.
Six tips on preparing for exams with permitted materials
At first glance, an exam during which you are allowed to use study materials might sound easy. However, note that the exam questions are not so much targeted at testing your knowledge, but rather at checking whether you have understood and are able to apply the contents. The following recommendations may be useful for studying and preparing your study materials:
1. Pay attention to 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 reading the introduction and then the conclusion. This allows you to get an overview of the topic before actually working on the text in detail.
2. Make your own summary of the entire content you have to learn
A summary written by yourself is much more useful than another person’s summary. 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.
- Add references to other study materials wherever possible from a subject-related point of view. In this way, connections become clearer.
3. 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.
- 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.
4. Continuously note down questions about the material
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? or: 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 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:
- 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.
- Evaluate the answers submitted by the other teams by the specified deadline. Subsequently, give 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.
- Please take care to give constructive and concrete feedback and be polite and respectful towards each other.