It’s the middle of the semester, and your professor makes an announcement that gives you an initial perk: “The next exam will be a take-home.”
Your mind begins racing with joy. You think of the opportunity to use your notes, the endless cups of coffee you can drink at home, and the ability to self-pace. This will be so easy, you think.
But then something else happens. A thought pops into your head: What if it’s actually really hard?
And then: What if it’s way more work than normal exams? What if I have to write an essay? What if my notes aren’t good enough? What if I don’t have enough time?
And just like that, you’ve entered full-blown panic mode.
You see, even though take-home exams may sometimes seem like an easy opportunity for an A, in reality, they require just as much attention, preparation and dedication as normal exams.
In fact, take-home exams can sometimes be even more cumbersome than their in-class counterparts. But don’t let that get to your head — you really can ace them.
Just follow these 8 helpful tips, and you’ll be sure to reach success.
1. Prepare your notes
One of the great perks of a take-home exam is the opportunity to use your notes. But what good will that do you if your notes are scarce, illegible, or just plain non-existent? Take some time before the scheduled exam to prepare your notes by sifting through the semester’s material. Looking over past lectures, comparing notes with classmates, and visiting your professor during office hours are all great ways to clarify any questions, confusion, or material that you’ve missed. Then, when you’ve got all the information you need to study, try rewriting your notes in an organized and eligible fashion. Not only will this help when you go to reference them for the exam, but rewriting will actually help you retain information better.
2. Schedule enough time for yourself
If it’s a take-home exam, there’s a deadline. Whether it’s a few hours, a full day, or a week, take- home exams always have a specific time slot. So, it’s important to allot the right amount of time you need to both prepare for the exam, and to take it. Clearing your schedule to allow yourself extra time before and during the exam will give you room to make mistakes, or deal with any confusion you might be faced with. The last thing you want is to be rushed, so make sure you know the exact time frame you’re working with, and give yourself plenty of leeway.
**Take-home exam nightmare: Once, a friend of mine got a take-home exam for her history class, and she thought it was due the next morning. Turns out it was actually due by 5 p.m. the day before, and the professor wouldn’t give her credit for being late. It dropped her grade from a B to a C.
Don’t let that be you!
Double, triple, and quadruple check that you have the time right.
3. Be sure you understand the rules
Can you consult with classmates? How much detail should you include in the answers? How long do you have to work on it?
These are all important questions to clarify. Making sure you understand the exam rules is crucial — after all, you won’t have your professor at home with you to answer questions. So, before the exam begins, be sure to clarify any uncertainties with your professor. If not, you could find yourself making mistakes that could end up costing you your grade.
4. If there’s an essay, practice writing techniques
Many take-home exams require essays or short answers. If that’s the case, it’s helpful to practice some writing techniques before/during the exam.
To practice writing before the exam, try sifting through your notes and crafting a timed essay based on a few key points from class. This is a great way to both study the material and practice timed writing.
During the exam, a great way to organize your writing is by forming an outline. Before diving in, try scribbling down a thesis statement, main arguments, and a conclusion. If you begin by organizing the structure and focus of your essay, the actual writing will be a piece of cake. Not only will this help save you time, but it will also be a good way to flesh out your ideas.
5. Pick a good place to take the exam
Do you live with four of your rowdiest friends like I do? If so, then you probably don’t want to take the exam at home.
Make sure you give yourself a nice, quiet space to avoid any distractions. It’s easy to get swept up in conversation with your roommates and friends (trust me, I know) and lose track of time, so make sure you can get to a place that will be conducive to work.
Try scoping out a nice spot in the library, or a nearby coffee shop, for a non-distracting atmosphere.
6. Don’t cheat online
Take-home exams don’t translate to “Google exams.” Don’t abuse your professor’s trust and surf the web to find answers. Not only would this be an ethical violation, but it might not even result in the correct information. With so much available on the internet, how would you know if the answer you found is right?
For example, a few kids in my Spanish class decided to use Google Translate for our take-home midterm. They ended up translating way beyond what we were learning in class, which made our professor pretty suspicious (let’s just say they weren’t usually that good at Spanish).
So she made them retake it in class, without access to a computer. You can probably guess how that turned out.
The only way to be sure you’re taking the exam correctly is by being honest and using your own notes. Googling the answers won’t teach you anything, and it most likely won’t end well.
7. Get a good night’s sleep
Like all exams, it’s important to sleep well the night before.
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time and rest before you start working, because feeling tired is a sure way to lose focus. Just because you can take the exam at home doesn’t mean you should be half asleep on the couch.
8. Don’t Stress
As mentioned before, take-home exams can be quite lengthy, detailed, and time-consuming. But don’t stress! There are plenty of benefits to take-home exams that can help you reach success. Getting stressed out or nervous will only make taking the exam harder.
Unfortunately, I know that’s easier said than done. So, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try practicing a few relaxation techniques. Strategies like deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and exercise are a few great ways to refocus your energy and take the weight off.
In all, take-home exams can be a great change of pace from in-class work. I mean, when else could you take an exam in your PJs and slippers? That being said, it’s really important to not get carried away and think you’re in for an automatic A. Take-home exams really do require your utmost attention, just like any other assignment.
So, get the coffee ready and be sure to take these tips seriously. As long as you put in the hard work, you’ll do absolutely fine.
Natalie Colarossi is a recent graduate from Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has covered a number of topics including art, culture, politics, music, and travel. Her greatest passion and priority is to travel, and she hopes to experience as many places and cultures as possible.