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Surviving a Take Home Exam

Girl studying at home on her bed

Take home exams have to be my least favourite assessment type. Mostly it’s because they turn your home into an exam room. That said, any exam that you can do in your pyjamas doesn’t have to be the worst experience of your academic career.

Know the details Find out from you tutor exactly when the exam paper will be available and when it’s due, and arrange time off work, etc. Be sure to get all the details about how to obtain and submit that paper – and also find out who to contact in the event of technical difficulties on the day (it happens). If there will be an essay or short answer component, find out if there is a word limit and whether your tutor expects footnotes – you’ll otherwise be wondering on the day.

Be prepared Treat it like the end of the world. That means making sure you have everything you need to bunker down in your house for the duration of the exam equivalent of a category 5 storm.

Head to the super market and stock up on study snacks – anything that only takes a short while to consume is probably ideal. Meal-wise, if you’re not the sort of person to cook up a dinner in advance, make sure you have some decent take away menus attached to the fridge and some cash on hand to pay the delivery boy. Naturally, you will also need coffee (and milk).

Make sure you have all the textbooks you need and that all your technology at home is fully functioning.

Do some study Because you get to do it at home with all your notes and in a longer than usual exam timeframe, it’s tempting to treat a take home exam like a practice paper. Try to approach it like you would any other exam: do some study in advance and make sure all your notes are organised and your textbooks tabbed.

MEGA TIP: If you’ll be doing the exam on your computer, make sure your notes are all typed up, then you can copy and paste sentences from your notes straight into your paper, complete with perfect case citations. This completely saved my sanity in my last take home exam. If you can type up your answers to practice papers, you’ll be in an even better position.

Rest up

A 12 or 24 hour exam is a long haul. Make sure you get plenty of sleep the few nights before, because it’s usually a pretty draining day. Also make sure you get outside the day before because you may also start to experience cabin fever.

The Main Event So you’ve made yourself a cuppa and downloaded the paper. Read the questions several times to get a feel for what’s ahead of you. Plan a rough timetable for the day, setting out the order you’re going to tackle questions in and how long you will spend on each. Be sure to leave a window of about an hour to two hours at the end for you to go over your paper or make up for any lost time. Factor in morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner breaks – you’ll need that time to get away from your laptop and clear your head. If it’s a 24 hour take home exam (or even longer), make sure you factor in sleep. Otherwise you’ll get delirious and write weird things.

Before you start to answer each question, write out an answer structure, detailing all the points you want to make. Then simply work through it.

For essay questions, keep in mind that your marker isn’t expecting something as perfect as the mid-term essay that you worked on for seven weeks straight. Make sure you answer all the questions, and you can go back and tinker with your wording at the end.

Just when you think it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be, something will usually go wrong. Make sure you back up your paper throughout the day (preferably use Dropbox or email your paper to yourself) so that if something goes wrong, you can run to the library or another computer and avoid re-answering questions. Also allow 30 minutes at the end of the exam for submitting the paper – technology always fails when it’s last minute.

Good luck!

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