Back to school after winter break is right around the corner, which sadly means back to taking tests. If your classes are still online, then you probably are taking online tests as well. With online exams, you may be taking the test during the time that your class normally is or you may have a proctor monitoring you taking the test.
As a college graduate, my last semester at UC Berkeley was half online, so I have experience taking online exams at the college level. Additionally, last October, I took the LSAT-Flex, which is the online version of the in-person LSAT test that you need to take in order to be admitted into law school. With the LSAT-Flex, I took this high-stakes exam using Proctor-U, which is a site where a proctor monitors you throughout your exam and they have access to your computer, mouse, microphone, and camera. Because I have experience taking tests online, I thought that I would share my tips on how to study for online tests and how to beat those test day jitters.
1. Study for the test in the same settings as you would for the real thing
Psychology has proven that if you study for a test in the same kind of setting as the real thing, then the score you get on your test improves. With this knowledge, you want to study for your online tests in the same area where you would be taking the test on test day. For my online classes, I listened to lectures and studied for my exams in the dining room of my parent’s house. Then, when test day came around, I would take the test in the dining room - so the same place where I was learning the information and studying. Doing this helps to get your body in the same mindset as when you were learning and studying, so during exam day, your mind is ready and able to recall information quickly.
2. Practice for the test as it would really happen
When studying for your tests, you want to practice for the test as it would actually happen on test day. That means, if you have one hour to take your test and answer six math problems, then when studying practice problems, you do not want to give yourself two hours to do these six problems. The same thing goes for any subject and any test that you are taking. If you give yourself extra time when doing practice tests, then you are just cheating yourself because the actual exam will not be under those extra time circumstances.
This tip is also useful for the materials that you will be using on test day. If you only get two pieces of scratch paper on test day, you need to study with only two pieces of paper. If you study using a pen, then you should be able to use a pen on test day. If your exam allows you to wear ear plugs, then try studying with ear plugs in so that you are used to what they feel like.
3. Practice breathing techniques
Before I took my LSAT-Flex, I had never done yoga before. I started doing yoga in the mornings as a morning routine in order to stretch and calm my mind before I set off on a long day of LSAT studying. During the LSAT-Flex, we get one minute breaks in between each section. I would use this time to sit with my eyes closed and take deep breaths. I found this helpful to calm my nerves and get prepared for the next section of the test. Even in the middle of the test, I found myself implementing deep breathing because I felt my nerves start to get bad, so I knew that I needed to calm myself, otherwise I would be an anxious mess the entire test.
Practicing breathing techniques, yoga, or even mindfulness can be a great way for you to get to know your body better. It can be helpful to employ when you start to feel stressed during your high-stakes tests. Take a second to breathe, re-focus, and ease your nerves.
4. Test out equipment beforehand
You do not want it to be the day of your test and you realize that your laptop is not charged, you don’t have the correct materials necessary to take the test, or your laptop is not compatible with the proctoring software your school uses.
If your school is using an external proctoring service to administer their tests, like Proctor U, then you may want to check your testing equipment a week or two before your test. On Proctor U, there is a button where you can test your computer, camera, and microphone to make sure that all settings are compatible with Proctor U. It would be terrible if you log on the day of your test to find out that you don’t have a computer that works with the testing software. This is unnecessary stress that you can get rid of by testing your equipment beforehand.
Similarly, if your school doesn’t use an external service like Proctor U, but they mandate certain testing requirements, like a clean background (no TVs, computers etc), a webcam, and a microphone, then you want to get these ready beforehand as well. Clean off your desk area so that it complies with your school’s rules. Check to make sure your webcam and microphone work so that you don’t run into any problems on test day.
5. Have your materials/desk/computer/room prepared the night before
This goes off of my last tip, but you want to have all of your materials prepared the day before your actual test so that you are not super stressed the day of your test trying to get everything together. If you are allowed scratch paper and writing utensils during the test, collect these items the night before and place them on your desk. You don’t want to leave anything up to chance, so you want to control as many variables as you can. You never know if something urgent will come up the day of your test and then you don’t have enough time to prepare your materials and desk the day of.
6. Practice exams where someone watches you
If your school is using proctoring services or having tests where someone is watching you via webcam, you should practice exam questions and study where someone is watching you. This might sound super weird, but if you have not taken exams like this before, seeing that your webcam light is on during the entire test can be nerve-wrecking. To help these nerves, you can ask a family member or friend to hop on Zoom or Facetime and sit there and watch you while you study. This person does not have to actively watch you the entire time, but seeing your webcam light on during practice can help your mindset during the actual test because you are already used to the possibility of someone watching you while you're test-taking.
7. Ask your family/parents/roommates to be quiet or leave
This is a big one now that a lot of schools and workplaces are online because everyone is at home and making noise. If you have a big test coming up, you may want to remind your family or roommates about it and ask them if they can try to be quieter during your test. If it is not possible for them to be quieter, then you may want to purchase ear plugs and see if wearing ear plugs during your test would be allowed. Ear plugs will help to drown out the background noise and make it quieter so that you can concentrate.
Rachel is the founder of Study Hall College Consulting. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley where she double majored in Cognitive Science and Legal Studies. For more application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.