Assessments can be delivered in a variety of ways. Don't assume one is easier than another, although the way you study might differ depending on the type of assessment. You need to prepare for all assessments, no matter what the delivery method is.
Typical exams are delivered in a proctored classroom setting with a specific period of time to complete a variety of questions and question types. This type of exam is usually "paper and pencil" but could also be delivered via an electronic device like a computer.
Open Book Exams (completed in class)
Open book exams may consist of many different question types. Because you are given the opportunity to consult print resources, expectations may be higher for answers to contain more detail and be more complex in their analysis of the question or statement. It is very important to pay special attention to directives in open book exams. If the exam is an open book math assessment, you will be expected to show detailed work as to how they reached their solution to the problem. If the exam is primarily or completely essay, you may be expected to use quotes, cite sources, and provide more details.
In an open book exam you will likely be evaluated more on understanding than on recall and memorization. Open book exams test your ability to find and use information for problem solving and to deliver well-structured and well-presented arguments and solutions. You may be expected to apply material to new situations, analyze elements and relationships, and demonstrate that you have synthesized the material through the structure of your answer and how well you have provided supporting evidence for your answer.
Terms & Directives
Directives ask you to answer or present information in a particular way. For a list of words and explanations, see Study Guides and Strategies, essay terms.
Tips for Preparing for Open Book Exams
- Stay current on readings and class assignments.
- Prepare brief, concise notes on ideas and concepts being tested.
- Carefully select what you intend to bring with you to the exam.
- Challenge yourself with how you would answer questions, and what options and resources you may need to consider.
- Pre-write answers to questions you anticipate might be on the exam and include your own commentary on the information that will provide fuel for your arguments and demonstrate that you have thought through the materials.
- Organize your reference materials:
- Make your reference materials as user-friendly as possible so that you don't lose time locating what you need.
- Familiarize yourself with the format, layout and structure of your textbooks and source materials.
- Organize textbooks and source materials with your class notes for speedy retrieval and index ideas and concepts with pointers and/or page numbers in the source material.
- Develop a system of tabs or sticky notes, color coding, concept maps, etc. to mark important summaries, headings, and sections.
- Write short, manageable summaries of content for each grouping.
- List data and formulas separately for easy access.
Tips for Taking Open Book Exams
- Read the questions carefully to understand what is expected.
- Quickly review the number of questions and note how much time each could take.
- First answer the questions that you are confident about and/or that will not require much time to check the resources.
- Leave more complex and difficult questions for later.
- Aim for concise, accurate, and thoughtful answers that are based on evidence.
- Use quotations
- to illustrate a point or act as a discussion point.
- to draw on the authority of the source.
- when you can not say it better in your own words.
- Quotations can be short.
- A reference to a quote may be as effective as the quote itself.
- Guard against overquoting – extensive quoting may detract from your point or argument.
Open Book Exams (Take-Home)
When you are given a take-home exam, you will have more time to complete it compared to an in-class exam, but you still need to study and prepare by organizing your materials and resources. Take-home exams are often graded more stringently than in-class exams because you do have more time to complete your work. You will need to pay special attention to details and organization, as well as to directives.
If your instructor doesn't specifically address it, ask if you are allowed to work on the exam with others or if you are to work alone. Working together on an exam that you are expected to complete individually is cheating.
To prepare for and complete an open book take-home exam, you will need to follow the same tips as for the in-class open book exam. Since you will have more time to complete the take-home exam than you would for an in-class open book exam, here are some additional tips for completing the exam:
- Take notes as you look through your materials for information about each question, then summarize what you find, writing down precisely where you found it.
- Use index cards for taking notes just as you would for a research paper.
- Make an outline for each answer.
- Write your answer by following the outline and looking up materials as you go.
Interviews and Oral Examinations
A formal assessment conducted through an interview or oral exam consists of a series of questions, which may include having you perform tasks or solve problems. You demonstrate your understanding of the concepts by answering questions and performing the requested tasks.
Oral exams give you an opportunity to practice your speaking and communication, both of which are needed during job interviews. Oral exams can include both prepared presentations where you are assigned a topic in advance, and more informal question-and-answer sessions where you need to know the content but don't need to prepare a formal presentation.
- Write out questions you anticipate will be asked.
- Write out possible follow up questions to your answers. Although content is typically set before the exam, questions asked during the exam are usually dynamic, based on your answers.
- Practice answering questions with classmates. Encourage classmates to ask follow up questions.
- Practice in front of a mirror to evaluate your delivery.
- Make a video recording of your practice session. When reviewing the recording, look for things in your delivery that you could improve.
- Avoid "verbal tics" like the phrases, "you know" or "OK, so" in the content of your answers.
- If you are using some form of technology during your exam, practice with the equipment the day before. If possible, test the equipment in the setting where it will be used.
- If you are using technology equipment during your exam, arrive early to the exam site to set up and test the equipment.
During the Exam
- Dress, look, and act professionally.
- Turn off your cell phone.
- Arrive at the location early so you have a chance to collect your thoughts before beginning.
- Carefully follow any directions you have been given for the exam, such as begin by introducing yourself, bring handouts, etc.
- Maintain good posture and make eye contact with the audience.
- Listen carefully to the questions you are asked. If you don't understand, ask for clarification.
- Stay focused. Pause and think about your answer before you start to speak. Don't ramble.
- Speak in complete sentences and elaborate on your answers. Avoid one- and two-word answers.
- When you are finished, thank your audience.
Math exams usually require students to complete math problems. Expect to be asked to show your work. Question types can vary from matching, to multiple-choice, to completion.
- Attend class and stay current with homework problems.
- As you work practice problems, be sure you understand the process.
- Work practice problems on your own first before checking the answer.
- If available, study a copy of the same instructor's previous exams.
- Form a study group to meet weekly to discuss homework problems.
- Carefully read the instructions for the exam.
- Read through the exam questions.
- If you are asked to show your work, write neatly and show each step clearly.
- Complete the easiest problems first.
- Read each question carefully and make sure you are answering the actual question.
- If you get stuck on a problem, move on and come back to it.
- If you are using a calculator, recheck your math immediately.
- If you aren't using a calculator, recheck your math if you have time.
Research papers are often assessed. Here's a good definition [by the Department of English at Purdue University] of a research paper:
"A research paper is a piece of academic writing that requires a more abstract, critical, and thoughtful level of inquiry than you might be used to…….Writing a research paper involves (1) first familiarizing yourself with the works of "experts"--for example, on the page, in cyberspace, or in the flesh through personal interviews--to build upon what you know about a subject and then (2) comparing their thoughts on the topic with your own." (Research Papers: What is a Research Paper? (n.d.). Retrieved September 3, 2012, from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/workshops/hypertext/ResearchW/what.html)
In a research paper you combine what you know with what you learn, integrating your personal thoughts and insights.
There are several different types of research papers:
- A review of the literature in a field: research information and then summarize and paraphrase it.
- A paper that analyzes a perspective: break a topic or concept down into its parts and then restructure those parts in a way that makes sense to you.
- A paper that argues a point: use information to support your stance on an issue.
- Read the assignment carefully. Ask for clarification if there is something you don't understand.
- Ask for the grading criteria.
- Create a timeline for completing the paper by working backwards from the due date. Allow adequate time for each step of the writing process.
- Follow any directions you have been give about how to cite your sources. If you haven't been given directions, ask if there is a specific format you are to follow.
- There are many helpful guides for writing research papers available on the Internet. For example, A Research Guide for Students Website contains information about the different steps you can follow as well as a plethora of additional helpful information. If you instructor doesn't give you specific resources to use or steps to follow, consider using this site as a guide or find a different site that meets your needs.
Class projects can take a variety of forms. They are also a way to assess what you have learned. Usually, instead of writing answers to questions, you have to produce something that will be graded based on specific criteria. The grading criteria are often organized in a rubric. You can visit the University of Wisconsin's Rubric Website for exemplar rubrics.
Working in Class Projects Tips
Because the term "class project" is so broad, it's hard to give specific tips, but here are a few that apply to projects in general:
- Make sure you understand the assignment. Ask for clarification if necessary.
- Make sure you understand the grading criteria. Ask for clarification if necessary.
- Don't procrastinate. Get started as quickly as possible.
- Make a plan by sequencing the tasks on a timeline, starting at the due date and working backwards.
- If you are working in a group, make sure everyone understands what the project is, what his or her role in completing the project is, and when his or her deliverable is due.
- Don't let your team members down – do your part and complete it on time.