By Sean (Student blogger: MSci Hons Computer Science)
I am done with my degree.
It feels surreal to say that, and I’m only able to because the Computer Science exams were held earlier than seemingly the rest of the university’s! Nevertheless, I’ve been there – sat for all 6 of my final, 3rd year Computer Science papers in a 24-hour, online, open-book exam format over the course of 3 weeks, and I’m here to tell you the things that stood out from my experience.
- The change of setting is your best friend.
You know that sinking anxiety you get when everyone’s huddling around the door to the exam hall, waiting to be let in? Those 2 tense minutes when the papers have been handed out but it isn’t 11:00AM sharp so everyone has to keep quiet and wait until they say you can flip over your sheets? That intense panic you get when they say “30 minutes left” and you’re still on question 2?
From my experience, these anxieties are all either greatly reduced or completely absent when taking an online exam. You might get the nerves during the buildup, but after the first 30 minutes you realize… you’re in the comfort of your own room (or the library, if that’s your thing). You know this place, unlike the cold, cruel exam hall. You don’t have 8 equally anxious people spaced 2 meters away from you in every direction, and you certainly don’t have hawk-eyed invigilators watching your every move.
To me, the fact that I didn’t feel like I was being forced to do everything a certain way gave me a great deal of privacy, and I was able to focus all that worrying energy into my actual paper. I could get a yummy snack or put on some music any time I wanted, so I felt very much in control. The amount of freedom, flexibility and confidence that gives you works wonders for your mental health and as a result, helps you when you’re answering those mind-boggling exam questions.
- You can pace yourself!
When I’m in a normal exam, I find I always have to save a portion of my brain cells for monitoring the clock. “Drat, it’s already 30 minutes, I have to move on to question 4, but I still have like 40% of question 3 to go… I guess I’ll have to skip a few points and come back to this later” … sound familiar?
Having my time limit be a whole day really made me realize how much stress a 3-hour window puts on your mind, and how well you can pace yourself when you don’t have that clock breathing down your neck. You have time to answer the questions to the best of your ability, and make sure that you get those points across clearly. Oh, you’re not in the mood for doing the exam right now? Take a walk and come back in an hour or two! It also helps eliminate situations where you might miss a question or two (speaking from personal experience…) because you have time to double-check your work. Having such a long time period was, to me, truly a godsend.
- Surprisingly, they feel more realistic
This last point is a bit unexpected, and honestly might not apply to every course (especially the more practical ones). However, I personally found that online exams feel more like what I would expect in a real-world setting over the carefully orchestrated and contained in-person written exams. In real life, you’re going to have access to your books, your computer and the internet. Recall questions don’t really take that into account and rely on you regurgitating information instead of understanding it. However, because these exams are open-book, and you have your resources ready, the questions are able to focus on your understanding of the material instead and provide a more helpful and realistic experience.
Honestly? I liked the online exams. Gasp, yes, but I felt these were a more effective way to evaluate students’ abilities than traditional exams. I’m glad I got to finish off my academic studies like this, because I don’t think there will come another opportunity like this one for a long while. Best of luck with your exams if you have any papers soon! They might still seem terrifying, but remember that at the end of the day, exams don’t and will never define who you are, so just go with the flow and give them your best shot.