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How should I prepare for a remote test?

You can meet with an Academic Coach via Zoom to see how the strategies below can be tailored to your learning. We help with learning in STEM, social science, and humanities courses; planning out your study schedule; overcoming procrastination, managing your remote workspace; and more. Below are strategies for all testsday-long or multi-day tests, timed tests, and writing essays.

For All Tests

What to Expect

An open book test, done from the comfort of your own room, might sound great. But it may be quite different from what you are accustomed to and more challenging than you expect. Prepare, prepare, prepare!

  • Open book tests tend to focus on the “how” and “why” (since you generally have access to the “what”), so keep this in mind as you prepare. You’ll be expected to think critically and to analyze and apply information across different problem types and situations.

  • Don’t count on having time to look everything up. You won’t have time to learn a whole new concept during the test, so aim for understanding when you’re preparing for the test.

  • Know the Honor Code. Read this FAQ on how the Stanford Honor Code applies to open-book tests.

How to Prepare

There are many things you can do in advance to set yourself up for success on a test. What strategies below would work for you?

  • Be aware of the course policies regarding collaboration and materials sharing, and follow them closely.

  • Care for yourself. If a test is worth a large percentage of your grade, it would be tempting to neglect self-care so you can spend more time on studying. Consider writing a simple plan for your day that incorporates the best times for working, exercise, socializing, hydration, meals, and sleep.

  • Review test strategies. Depending on the type of test you are taking (multiple choice, short-answer essay, etc.), you may need to practice different strategies to stay as sharp as possible. Check out our test prep handouts for suggestions.

  • Get organized by grouping materials on the same topic together; creating lists of important equations, vocabulary, and the like; and creating concept maps, study guides, and outlines.

  • Make a list of what material the test is going to cover and what resources would be helpful to have at your fingertips. 

  • Practice makes perfect. To strengthen what you already know and identify what you need to boost, do a practice test without reviewing your notes. Although this is less comfortable than reviewing notes first, you will be repaid for the discomfort by further reinforcing what you know and identifying what you don't—so you can focus your efforts on improving those weaker areas.

  • Practice by emulating the testing situation. Consider studying and taking practice tests in the same situation you will be in during the actual test: same time of day, same time limitation, same resources available.

  • Keep a running list of any questions you have as you go through your preparations. Seek out the answers through your own resources and communication with your TA or instructor.

  • Need help focusing? In addition to preparing a concentration-friendly workspace as described above, you can also look into focusing tools, such as the Pomodoro Technique. There are some helpful tutorials about this technique on YouTube to help get you started.

  • Learn to reduce test anxiety. Many students hit a tough problem on a test, get very anxious, and then have difficulty concentrating even on subsequent problems. If you do hit a problem you’re not sure about, how will you talk yourself through it? Write down your ideas in advance or talk to someone about them. Read more about reducing test anxiety.

Taking the Test

The key to effective test taking is knowing how to stay calm and be strategic. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Plan how you will step through the test. It is not necessarily best to go from the beginning to the end. Look over the test, estimating how long sections or problems will take, noting how many points each problem is worth, ensuring comprehension of the instructions, and jotting down a brief plan for completing the test. 

  • Revisit your plan. As you go through the test, keep referring to the plan you wrote. Feel free to revise it. It is a decision-making tool, not a list of commandments. Guide yourself through this experience kindly and wisely.

  • Double-check your work. If you have time at the end, you can check your answers against your notes or materials.

For Day-Long or Multi-Day Tests

  • Use social accountability. Generally speaking, people find they have to do more to motivate themselves when they are working at home than at school. Discuss your test plans with a friend or family member to help overcome procrastination. During breaks, you can send them a quick text to report your progress (without violating the Honor Code, of course) and help you stay on track. 

  • Schedule breaks. Breaks will keep you focused. A good schedule of breaks might be a 5 minute break every 30 minutes or so, a 20 minute break every 2 hours, and an hour-long break (lunch!) after 4 hours.

  • Take quality breaks. Stretching, getting some water, or walking around the block are good breaks—your brain rejuvenates and it is easy to get back to work after a few minutes. By contrast, staying seated while checking email or social media often increases stress and fatigue and promotes excessively long breaks.

For Timed Tests

  • Watch the clock. Once you have planned out how you will step through the test and have actually begun, keep your eye on the clock. It’s okay if you change your plan as you go through, but it might be helpful to set timers so you can stay on pace.

  • When you don’t know what to do, do something. You may hit a difficult question and  think, “I don’t know what to do!” But if you just start writing whatever comes to mind— anything associated with the problem at all—this might lead to you realizing something practical you can act on.

  • Show your steps even though you are moving fast. Steps get you partial credit.

  • Skip and go back, rather than using up too much time on a single problem.

Writing Essays

  • Read instructions carefully, circling and underlining key words, to ensure you understand them well.

  • First make a mess, then clean it up. Following this advice from educational psychologist William G. Perry Jr. will allow you to write with less stop-and-start. As you implement the strategies below, just start typing whatever comes to mind, then fix it!

  • Attempt to generate a working thesis statement early on—your opinion plus your reasons for that opinion. That can guide your reading, keeping it efficient. As you learn more by reading, revise your thesis statement.

  • Draft a simple outline before you start trying to crank out text. At the very least, include your thesis statement, main sections, and a few sub points for each section. 

  • Draft the body first. It’s easier to write an introduction when you know what you are introducing!

  • Cite your sources correctly. Rules of thumb: if the sentence you wrote is a direct quotation, or a paraphrase of someone else’s idea, cite it. Don’t worry about over-citing; only under-citing will cause significant problems. Under-citing is a form of plagiarism.

  • If time permits, take a break from the essay, and then revise with fresh eyes. It’s helpful to have some distance from your work to catch errors. 


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