Test day causes tension in students of all levels, which includes those in online education. In fact, test-taking in an online format is similar to the traditional exam process, and if you ask around, you’ll find that many students who have studied online claim that online tests and assignments are every bit as challenging as those in a traditional classroom, if not more so.
Throughout an online class, professors will post due dates for you and your classmates to complete examinations that cover different sections of course material. Then, leading up to the test, you will receive reading and other assignments to prepare for the exam. In addition, you will be required to participate in forums throughout the week based on a topic posted by the professor, which will usually be specifically geared toward the exam. To begin an exam, you log in to the school’s online portal to access the materials that have been posted by your instructors.
Studying and Preparing
Before test day arrives, you must dedicate yourself to learning as much of the material as possible. This means completing your homework, doing your reading, and reviewing your notes. One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to participate in your course forum thread. Similar to traditional education, you will have the opportunity to talk to your classmates about class topics, which simulate the types of open discussion students and educators experience in a traditional classroom setting; except in online learning, this discussion takes place in a message board setting instead of in a lecture hall.
“At the beginning of the week, I post the reading assignments, discussion questions, and assignments,” Daniel McCrobie, who teaches multiple subjects both online and in the traditional format at the University of Phoenix, said. “Each works together to improve the student’s learning. Each student is responsible for showing up and posting their ideas [on the forum] four out of the seven days in a week.”
McCrobie added that his classes are structured in a way that allows discussion questions he posts for his students to be the main method of developing communication and fostering a community. He specifically designs discussion questions to create talking points between students that boost communication and writing skills. He also designs his topics to provide a challenge that can be applied to their future or current career fields.
“Students then add to [the discussion], and tangents grow to enhance learning as students talk about problems they have at work and how they could use the methods to solve them,” McCrobie said. This way, all students will better understand the discussion topic inside and out, increasing their probability of receiving a good examination grade.
Taking Your Exams
When it comes to actual test taking, most online colleges and universities, regardless of what type of learning management system they used, will follow the same basic structure for administering tests. According to e-learning expert Melissa Venable, who holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of South Florida, all systems provide a number of variables that can be set up to customize the test taking procedure for a specific school, program, or course. Professors will then set a specific time frame that the test will be available, for example, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a given day of the week. Professors can then set a time limit for students to complete the test once the test is underway.
“In the learning management system, the student would click on the exam item to start the test,” Venable said. “Then, [the student] is usually presented with one item at a time. Settings may or may not allow students to pass over questions and then go back later for review. Questions can be randomized and multiple-choice responses can be presented in random order. At the end of the test, the student will click to submit.”
For Jeff Kennedy, a Liberty University alumnus who holds multiple master’s degrees, the online education experience was similar. Liberty uses Blackboard to administer its class functions, including syllabi, weekly assignments, quizzes, and tests. According to Kennedy, the type of assignments and exams were mostly dependent on the level of the course.
“The tests had to be done in one sitting,” Kennedy said. “They had to be taken within one week of their assigned date, meaning that if you got the assignment on Monday, it had to be taken before midnight the following Sunday.”
Kennedy went on to say that he recommends online students get into the habit of reading all of the assigned reading materials from the first day of class onward, even for open-book tests. “If [students] wait and try to cram in a bunch of chapters and then take the tests, they will flunk,” Kennedy said, “because those tests, even the open-book ones, are really hard. Liberty crafts the tests so that even with your book open in front of you, if you haven’t read, highlighted, and taken copious notes on the material, your grade will suffer severely. The time limits on the test do not allow for a student to wing it.”
However, not all examinations are conducted online. Online institutions that have physical campuses across the country, such as Kaplan University, may require students to go to those campuses to take their exams, Venable said. In addition, examinations could take place at a local community college or a private testing center, such as Prometric. This way, a professional can proctor the exam. The student is responsible for coordinating the dates and test times with his or her online school and the testing center. Then, when it is time to take the examination, you will need to bring any necessary test-tasking supplies, such as a pen and paper, as well as a form of identification so that the testing center will know which examination you are to take.
Thinking Beyond the Exam
While test taking is one of the primary ways a college or university measures learning, you will also encounter other methods such as quizzes, essays, research papers and other projects.
“Generally speaking, an undergraduate might have more frequent tests or exams than a graduate student,” Venable said. “The learning objectives are likely different, on different levels making testing a good assessment for lower-level objectives, but not so good for higher-order objectives.”
Liberty student Kennedy agreed. “In the 500-level [classes],” Kennedy said, “it was mostly reading and a few discussion boards – sort of like an online chat environment with other students – and possibly a quiz or test based on the reading. There could also be a short essay or two due.”
In higher 600- to 700-level classes, however, Kennedy explained that there were far fewer tests or quizzes and more research paper assignments. Additionally, all levels included detailed book critiques of the assigned texts and readings. When an assignment was completed, critiques, essays, and research papers were submitted through Blackboard. When it came to turning in essays and papers, Kennedy said his Liberty professors were sticklers on formatting and mechanics. For him, writing multiple drafts where revisions and improvements could be made, in addition to getting help from Liberty’s writing center – a service created to provide online students with a critique of their papers – were essential to earning good grades on written assignments.
Overall, whether your biggest grades will come from examinations, quizzes, or research papers, remember to prepare well in advance (even for open-book examinations), and ensure that all of your writing is clean and correctly formatted.