By: Cristina Kerluke, Academic Support Program Specialist

Final exam week is almost here. With the pivot to online learning, your final exam week likely looks different than you had originally anticipated. For some students, taking an online final exam may be a new and perhaps daunting experience. While the online environment does present some differences that warrant a bit of extra awareness and planning, preparation is the key to success for any exam. In addition to last week’s article “Preparing for the End of the Semester,” please consider the following tips and strategies when it comes to conquering your online final exams. 


1) Determine the details. Which courses will have final exams and what are the specifics? 

  • When is the exam? Will the exam take place at a specific date and time, or can you take the exam at any point during a particular window of time? What online platform will you use?
  • What is the exam format? Will the questions be multiple choice, short answer, essay, or a combination? Is it an open or closed-book exam? How much time will you have? How will you submit the exam?
  • What will be covered on the exam? Will the content be limited to the later portion of the semester, or will it be cumulative and include content from the entire semester?
  • How much does each exam contribute to your final grade? Does it carry the same weight as described in the original course syllabus, or has this changed?

2) Prepare for the exam.

  • Strategize on how and when you will prepare up until each exam. Set clear study goals for what remains. Write things down and stick to your plan.
  • Say no to distractions. Manage your learning environment by studying in a space with minimal distractions. Bring only the materials you need for that particular study session. Consider using the Pomodoro technique, a task management approach that can assist you with single tasking. 
  • Practice, practice, practice daily until exams. Spend time on your courses each day leading up to the final to maximize your retention.
  • Use all senses in learning. Read it, say it, hear it, do it, and think about it. Develop study guides, flashcards, and example problems. Write and recite exercises to master vocabulary, concepts, and key information.
  • Meet with classmates to generate potential test questions and actively discuss course concepts. 
  • Contact your faculty to ask questions and clarify your understanding. Additionally, know how best to contact your instructor in the event of a technical issue during an exam. 
  • Determine when you will take the exam. If an exam is not at a predetermined day and time (e.g., the exam will be available for several hours or even a few days), choose a time that presents the least potential for distraction, interruption, and stress.
  • Assess your technology needs. Confirm that your wifi and the device you will use to take the exam is working properly. Perform any needed system and software updates prior to the day of the exam. Make sure laptops and tablets are fully charged. Have a backup plan should any technology-related issues arise.


  • Be awake. Get a good night’s sleep, shower, chew gum…caffeine if needed (but don’t overdo it).
  • Eat well. It can be more difficult to concentrate if you’re hungry. Don’t eat anything that may upset your stomach.
  • Confirm again your device and wifi access is working properly. 
  • Find the best location to take the exam. Sitting at a table or desk is best. Turn off all potential distractions — TV, phone, social media, and all notifications. 
  • Inform those you live with that you will be taking an exam. This can (hopefully) prevent any potential interruptions. 
  • Gather all essential test materials. Books or notebooks (if allowed), a pen or pencil to work out math problems or to jot notes, and water to stay hydrated.
  • Show up for your exam. It seems obvious, but online exams are easier to miss than you may think. Know what time your exams are at (or alternately, how long you have to take them), and be at your computer, ready to begin. Consider using  Google Calendar to set a reminder for 30 minutes prior to the exam to give yourself time to get physically and mentally prepared. Log into the exam platform early in case there are any last-minute issues to resolve.


  • Read the instructions thoroughly and make a plan. Before you answer anything, take the time to carefully survey the exam (if allowed). Keep in mind some online exams may not allow you to go beyond the first question without answering it. 
  • Maintain academic integrity. You alone are responsible for your actions in the online learning environment. Choose to make the right decisions and always make the necessary effort to conduct yourself honestly and ethically. Refer to the exam instructions to know what course materials are permitted.
  • Be aware of time limits. Consider the total amount of time you have to complete your exam. How many questions are you being asked to answer? Pace yourself and keep track of time. Consider setting an alarm to notify you when you have limited time (e.g., 10 minutes) remaining in your testing period.
  • Save your answers as you progress through the exam. Some online exams may not allow you to return to previously answered questions. If you don’t know the answer, make the most educated guess you can. Try to remember what the instructor emphasized and felt was important.
  • Don’t panic. When confronted with a number of questions of varying degrees of difficulty, there are bound to be ups and downs…times you’re feeling better, and worse, about how the test is going. Try to ignore such instantaneous feedback. Take deep breaths, stay calm and focus your energy.
  • Write your short-answer or essay questions in a word document that you can save and then copy and paste into the exam. This will prove extremely helpful if you have technical problems during the exam or if you encounter issues while submitting.
  • Don’t leave the test page. If you are permitted to search the web or check other websites for information, use a new window or a different browser to prevent you from losing any work. 
  • Be prepared if technical problems arise. If there is an issue, notify your instructor immediately. Instructors are aware that there may be challenges at times, and can be very accommodating. Detail the exact problem that occurred and any error messages you might have received. 
  • Check your work before you submit it. Ensure that every answer is complete and appears as you intended. Review the accuracy of your answers, as well as your spelling and grammar.
  • Don’t forget to submit. You should only need to do so once, but if you have a problem, try once more. Once your exam submission is confirmed, you’re done! If you have a problem submitting the exam, let your instructor know immediately.
  • Reward yourself. Plan to reward yourself, even in a small way, when the exam is over. You’ve earned it!

After the semester ends, be sure to take time for YOU. These past few months have been challenging for us all, and it’s important to take time to relax, reflect, and recharge. For some, you may also be gearing up to take an online USM Summer Session course. Continue to visit us at for resources and strategies, including what peer academic support services will be available virtually during the summer. 

To the graduating students, this marks the culmination of an amazing achievement and major life milestone! For those continuing the journey at USM, make sure to watch for announcements regarding fall 2020, and please stay in touch with your USM family over the summer. Be safe, be well, and be proud of your achievements this year.


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