Planning, Revision and Preparation for Online Exams

Online exams may be a new or unfamiliar mode of assessment for you, we have therefore designed this step-by-step guide to help you to successfully plan, revise and prepare for online assessment.

This guide is relevant to all types of exams; however, your module convenor will provide more subject-specific material and advice on Moodle

This guide is based on the principles that good revision:

  • is targeted, in other words focuses in on exactly what you need to revise.
  • is structured, in other words has been planned out, timetabled and happens regularly.
  • makes use of effective methods to aid understanding and memory.
  • takes place within a suitable environment.
  • involves exam practise in order to help you to perform optimally under exam conditions.

Along with practical advice and exercises, this guide will also include links to:

  • the University’s online exam policy.
  • technical guidance.
  • further revision and exam support.

Important note: Please read this whole guide before starting with step 1.

Step 1: Planning for your online exams

Creating your revision and exam environment

The ideal environment will be a private space, even if it is a corner of your bedroom, with a table and chair. However, we realise that everyone’s situation is different: 

  • If you are working in a shared space, headphones or ear plugs may help to muffle distracting noises.
  • If you are unable to access a table, but need a flat surface to work on, consider other pieces of furniture e.g. bed, cabinet, garden furniture, or even a deep window ledge or floor.
  • Set up your laptop, PC or other web-enabled device to work on. If you do not have any web-enabled device, please contact the IT and library help desk.
  • Let everyone in the house know when you are studying or taking your exam, to try and limit interruptions, or choose times to study and take your exam when it is quieter in the house.
  • Ensure you have water to drink; water helps to keep the mind focused.

Step 2: Revision and practice for your online exams

Creating your revision and exam practice timetable (as soon as possible)

Create a time plan covering the period from now until the day of your last exam. you can download blank time planners.

  • Add all exam dates and exam formats to your time plan, along with anything else you need to do between now and your last exam e.g. shopping, washing etc.
  • Add all periods of revision, for each exam, to your plan along with breaks and time-off.
  • Treat revision like a job e.g. a full day's work with appropriate breaks.
  • When you have identified exactly what you need to revise (see below) update each revision entry with a task/s to focus on; this will give you a clear aim for each session.
  • Be disciplined and stick to the start times of your revision sessions.
  • If you find yourself in a revision ‘zone’ and wish to go past your end time, do, but do not miss meals, refreshments or rest and stop as soon as your revision is ineffective.

Identifying what to revise

For each module:

  • Read and note the learning outcomes.
  • List all topics and identify ‘core topics’ emphasised by lecturers/tutors, assignments and reading lists.
  • Note topics in past papers in the relevant Moodle modules (down left side of page), bear in mind specific topics change each year.
  • Undertake an audit of all topics to identify what you know and what you do not know, as this will help you to work out what you need to understand and revise first.
  • Divide what you need to revise into manageable sections and add these details to your revision plan (e.g. strong knowledge and understanding, unclear in parts, weak).

Revision techniques

Pace of revision:

  • Pomodoro method: 25-min focus and 5-min break.
  • Plan to revise complex material when you are fresh and have a block of time.
  • Plan to revise easier material when you have less time or when you are getting tired.

Work (repeatedly) with each topic, identifying:

  • Key topic issues, concepts, practises, theories, facts, key terms or formulae etc.
  • Connections between key issues, concepts, practises, theories, facts, key terms or formulae, if relevant to your discipline and exam.

Order or categorise information to help you understand and remember it:

  • Convert information into tables, charts, spider diagrams, flow diagrams, pictures.
  • Use colours, highlighters, symbols, different fonts to emphasise different key elements.
  • Use the information to help you remember it e.g. practising a formula to understand how it works.

Create revision props:

  • Index cards (questions on one side and answers on the reverse), test papers or blank maps or a partial formula to complete (fill in the gaps).

Keep a checklist of what you need to revise for each module/exam, tick off what you have completed, adjust your time plan to ensure you revise everything you need to in time. 

Exam practice

This will help you get used to working under exam conditions:

  • Access past or mock papers/questions, then practise completing them under exam conditions, within the expected exam time frame e.g. 1 hour, 2 hours or 3 hours.
  • If you are unable to find past or mock papers/questions, you can either draft your own assignment question or just recall as much as possible on a module/topic, in the format and time expected for the exam. At the end you can compare what you managed to recall against your checklist, this will help you to identify areas requiring more revision i.e. the topics/details you struggled to remember.

Exam techniques

  • Read the information on the exam paper very carefully, you need to ensure you follow all instructions accurately.
  • Look at the weighting of questions (the exam marks given to each) if there are any, it may be worth attempting the questions with highest points first - on a scrap paper you might wish to plan your order.
  • It is worth spending a few minutes dividing the exam time between the tasks/questions you have to complete, this will give you mini deadlines to follow. Ensure you allow some time at the end for reading through/checking your responses.
  • For multiple choice/single answer questions in exams specifically, it may be useful to skim-read all questions first and make a note of question numbers you are certain you can answer correctly. It may save time if you start with easy to answer questions first. If you do not get points deducted for wrong answers, it is always a good idea to answer all questions, even if you are not sure of the answers.
  • For essays in exams specifically, read through all questions carefully and select correct number to answer. It may be an idea to start with the easiest question first if you have several. Ensure you understand what you are being asked to do and note down any thoughts in response e.g. key points/arguments, theories, evidence/examples etc. To keep yourself on topic of the question it is a good idea to make a plan of logically ordered points before starting to write. 

Dealing with exam anxiety

Understanding anxiety

Anxiety is the body’s response to fear, usually fearful thoughts. To reduce anxiety, it is necessary to slow the body’s response down through controlled breathing and focus the mind on peaceful thoughts.

Breathing exercise (repeat these steps every day to develop the habit):

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, expanding your stomach as you do (deep breathing).
  2. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds.

While practising the breathing exercise focus your mind on the sensation of the air going in and out of your body, noticing how your stomach expands and contracts.

Activities to reduce anxiety:

Listening to music, dancing, singing, reading a non-course related book, cooking, watching your favourite TV show, drawing or other creative hobby, playing with a pet, doing a home work-out, gardening, talking with friends etc. For more guidance please visit Exam Calm.  

Step 3: Preparation the day before your online exam

Exam equipment

  • Ensure all IT equipment is working, if you have any concerns please contact the IT and Library Helpdesk.
    • check that any battery powered device is charged in advance and keep a charger nearby.
    • check that you can upload documents.
  • Ensure you have basic equipment such as a note pad and pens/pencils for breaking down questions, planning your time or working out solutions to problem-based questions.
  • Ensure you have any approved discipline specific equipment for your exam e.g. calculator.

Create the exam environment

  • If you have been able to follow the advice for creating a revision space in step 1, your ‘online exam’ environment may already be set up. If you haven’t done this already, work out where you can work on your exam paper/s.
  • If you are in a shared house, ensure everyone knows when you are working on your exam paper in order to minimise unnecessary interruptions or distractions where possible.
  • Remind yourself of the length of time you have to spend on your exam paper e.g. 1, 2, 3 hours.   
  • Practise your breathing and mindfulness, keep hydrated and ensure you have had an adequate meal before undertaking your exam.


Step 4: During your online exam

Combining time management and exam techniques

Put into practice everything you have learnt about exam techniques in previous steps:

  • Start your exam paper when you have everything prepared to do so.
  • Read the exam paper instructions very carefully, noting down all components if necessary.
  • Work out how you are going to divide your time between the tasks, questions or word counts, remembering to incorporate time for proofreading your exam paper at the end. Give yourself mini deadlines to keep yourself on track.

How to recover from getting stuck 

If your mind goes blank, you lose focus or get confused:

  • Do not panic, take a minute or two to practise your breathing and mind focusing technique.
  • Re-read the instructions and maybe write them out in your own words to help to get unstuck.
  • Read what you have completed so far to see whether you have gone off-track. If you have, take a few minutes to plan your next steps to get yourself back on topic.
  • Note down everything you know about the topic. This will help you to re-focus.
  • Leave a gap and move onto the next question, returning later to where you became stuck. 

Troubleshooting technical issues during the exam

We have produced a technical guide for accessing your exams online, using the answer booklet and dealing with technical issues.

Useful resources

More information on revision and exam preparation is provided on the Student Learning Advisory Service web pages, including the following guidance:

You can also attend one of our online workshops or book a study advice appointment.

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