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This semester, professors have to adjust how they administer examinations, given that they can no longer supervise students on location. Some decided to assign timed take-home exams, while others requested that students download proctoring software to mirror typical in-person exam conditions. No matter what you will be facing this finals season, as always, Spectrum has some tips to get you through it.

Take-home exams

“In-class” exam

In-class exams will usually be posted at a certain time and will be due within the time frame of the class or at a specified time. They may or may not be open-book, depending on the course, so some preparation is necessary considering how much time is allotted. Just treat it like a regular exam you would take on campus.

Since you will be submitting your exam online, before you start, double-check where you are supposed to turn it in. You may have to go to a submissions tab on Courseworks or Gradescope, or the professor might ask you to email the exam to them or the teaching assistants. Keep that in mind (and find your professors’ and TAs’ emails) before the exam starts!

Considering the time constraints, make sure you organize your tabs and windows in a way that will allow you to find what you need in the fastest way possible. For example, if you are taking a STEM final, group all your calculators, textbooks, and other necessary resources in a new window before the exam starts (if you’re allowed to use them). This way, you will not have to waste time opening a new tab and searching. Desmos and Symbolab are two good resources to use if you do not have your own graphing calculator. GeoGebra is another resource that allows you to graph in three dimensions. Before using an online tool, however, make sure your professor has approved of it.

You might need to submit your work through Courseworks, meaning you’ll need to scan or take pictures of any work you did on paper. If you do not have access to a scanner and would like to scan your exam rather than take a picture, there are apps like Evernote Scannable you can download on your phone that provide good quality scans. If you have an iPhone, you can also just use the Notes app to scan documents.

Make sure to leave some time for yourself toward the end of the exam to scan your documents and submit them. Time will go by faster than you think, so set an alarm or a reminder five to 10 minutes before the deadline to scan. This also leaves time for you to solve any technical problems you may encounter. If there is an issue and you miss the deadline by a few seconds or minutes, make sure to take a screenshot of anything that can prove to your professor you had technical problems and send them an email right away. They are usually understanding and they will open up the Courseworks assignments tab for you to submit your work.

24-hour timed exam

In some cases, the exam may be available for a full 24 hours. Organization is key in this situation. Spend time preparing materials you will be using—organize your notes, catch up on lectures, and review material that you are confused by beforehand—and, once you begin, do not take any long breaks. Finish it in one sitting to avoid rushing at the last minute.

In addition to organization, another tip would be to give yourself needed breaks especially if your exam involves a lot of writing and analysis. Because your exam is 24 hour long, some people may be tempted to pound through the work for many hours on end due to stress. But often times this mindless work could actually yield poor quality results. Writing and analysis is often most insightful and well-crafted when we produce it with a clear head. Editing the work is also much easier and effective when we give ourselves a break from it, and turn back to reread it hours later. So, if you are sitting at your desk with a relentless migraine and blurry vision from all your hours of hard work, it would be wise to grant yourself a short break. You could meditate, eat a snack, or walk around to clear your mind.

Another important tip would be to plan out your time in advance. If there are many sections to your exam, it could be a good idea to identify the areas that are harder for you, and leave more time for those parts later on. Depending on what type of learner you are, it could be wise to tackle the harder questions first and finish the easier ones later, or vice versa. Either way, an unfortunate scenario would be to not plan and later on, run into difficult sections, and have to rush through them due to time constraints.

Take-home essay

If you are assigned a take-home paper to complete, that means you will probably have at least a couple of days or maybe even a week to submit it. Take advantage of the time you have to do research. Campus libraries have made 40 percent of Columbia’s print collection temporarily available online. You can also request scans of small portions of offsite books as well as of books on campus.

You will also probably be using readings from class. To make it easier for you to sort through readings, group them under themes and topics so that you can easily find them when you get the prompt. That way, you will nott need to have 10 Courseworks tabs open or to frantically look through folders for the correct reading.

With enough time and resources to start research on your essay, the next step is to ensure that you are understanding and deconstructing the question correctly. If you have some doubts and have enough time to ask questions, you should definitely meet with your TA or professor to clarify the prompt. You can also book an appointment with the Columbia and Barnard writing centers if you’re looking to strengthen your outline or draft.

At this point, you should probably make an outline before starting your essay. As confident as you might be in your ability to freestyle, making an outline will help you sort through all the research, readings, and ideas you have and organize them in a coherent manner. You really do not want to find yourself halfway through your paper wondering what point you are trying to make.

Finally, when you start writing, split your screen between your paper and your notes so you will not have to keep switching tabs and windows. Put all your notes in one document and use the find command to locate whatever topic or idea you’re looking for. To be even more efficient, you can download Zotero or Mendeley, tools that allow you to not only organize your research but also automatically create citations for you on Microsoft Word, and in Zotero’s case, Google Docs.

Proctored exams

Proctored exam using Chrome extension like Proctorio

Many professors are choosing to administer exams using Google Chrome extensions that record your screen and block your browser so that you can only be on the testing page. These programs can also record your face, your surroundings, and any background noise as you take the exam to ensure there is no cheating. This means that you will most likely need a working webcam, a microphone, a strong Wi-Fi connection, and a charged laptop to complete the exam.

Extensions and software like Proctorio will flag you for suspicious activity if you are talking to someone, if you move away from the frame, if someone else is in the room with you, or if there are any loud sounds like a phone ringing. This means that you will have to read the instructions your professor gives very carefully before the exam starts. If scrap paper or a calculator are allowed, you will probably have to show them to the camera and place them on your desk so that they are visible.

This also means you will have to find a quiet space to work in, preferably a room with a door you can close to avoid any interruptions from family members or roommates. Make sure you have water near you and that it is visible on screen to avoid reaching out of frame, and remember to go to the bathroom before you start. To avoid any unwanted surprises, you should turn off your phone completely to avoid any ringing or notifications. If you have a MacBook, make sure to put it on Do Not Disturb so as not to receive iMessage notifications, which make noise.

Finally, considering that these are new programs and software professors are using, expect some technical difficulties. Proctorio does not let you exit the page you are on, so if your professor tells you to use Piazza or to email them if you encounter any technical difficulties, make sure to inform them that you will not be able to contact them if your computer is frozen on one page. That way, you and your peers can find an alternative way to contact the professor. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Given that these tests are proctored and timed, studying for them will be similar to studying for typical exams on campus, so make sure to plan out your reading week to leave enough time to review your notes and do any necessary practice problems.

Zoom final

Some professors may choose to administer their exams over Zoom, meaning you will be taking the exam with your camera on while a TA or professor oversees the session. This will probably be very similar to the type of exam described above with one major upside: You can ask the TA or your professor any questions you might have throughout the exam without the fear of being flagged for suspicious activity.

Spectrum staff writer Lina Bennani Karim be contacted at lina.bennanikarim@columbiaspectator.com. Follow Spectrum on Twitter @CUspectrum and on Instagram @cuspectrum.

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