If you've just been assigned a take home exam and think that doing well on it will be a piece of cake, think again. Take home exams can be tricky. The main advantage is that you are free of the stress of the exam room and all the issues around timed writing. The main disadvantage is that they will be difficult. They will require that you think carefully and know the material well. So, here are some strategies on how to ace the take home exam.
Once you get your exam, read it thoroughly and carefully. Contact your professor or teaching assistant if you have any questions. Don't be shy. Sometimes, this point alone could have clarified a detail for a student, thus helping him/her do better.
Assemble all the materials you will need and keep them in on place. This includes the course readings, assignments, and most importantly your notes, handouts, and any online materials your professor has given you.
Decide which order you are going to do the questions. Some take home exams could have a mixture of question types requiring different answers, from pithy short answers, just a few sentences long, to short essays. Pick the easiest and least complex questions first, and get them out the way, while mulling over how you will approach the more difficult lengthy questions or short essays.
Use your time wisely
That especially applies if you are on a 24-hour deadline. The great gift of a take-home exam is that you will have some flexibility and more time than for a regular exam. So, don't start the exam at the last minute. My English department has given take-home exams before, and inevitably someone does leave it to the last minute. Since we were taking submissions online, often I would get some panicky emails about computer failure right before deadline. No dice. If you miss the deadline because you started late, there are absolutely no extensions.
On the other hand, you can use some quick catch up techniques to answer the questions. Now, don't think that this is the time to start stuffing all the information from the course into your head. But, you can review material you've covered. And you can take some time to do a quick study on some articles or organize your course materials. Here's a short cut. See if you can write a quick summary of the course articles outlining the author's main point and his/her support points.
Also, read your professor's course outline and notes closely. The course outline will tell you what the professor considered to be important. There may be additional notes associated with the topic. These will help you cut to main ideas, and you can be sure this is the material will show up on the exam. If the professor has posed a question, check for that topic in the course outline, then find the associated readings. Your answers to your take home exam will be in there.
Some people think the course is a big mystery, and the final is meant to short out their brain circuits. But if you focus on the material in the course outline only, you will save time and stress and focus on what needs to be tested. You would be surprised at home many students don't do this!
Focus and draft your answers
Don't feel compelled to write the first thing that comes into your head just to get the exam over with. You have the time to draft each answer. Note the places in the readings that are relevant. Make a short outline (even for the short answer questions). Note the authors of the readings you have used and refer to them. Then write your answer from the outline, Then revise it.
Read your professor's instructions carefully
Ninety per cent of the students who lose marks in my classes do so because they don't read instructions carefully. The instructions on a take home test are extremely important,
So, if the instructions on the take-home exam request that you answer them in one or two sentences, it means write one or two sentences. Make sure they are complete sentences and not point form answers. You can be sure that the quality of your spelling, grammar and sentence structure will affect your mark. Some instructors will be more strict on this than others. Don't assume that they will mark you only on content. You can assume, though, they will appreciate a clear, well-formed, grammatically correct answer. The good news is you have the opportunity fix or edit your answer before you submit it.
Make sure that you answer the question directly. If it is a short answer question you will find the answer lurking somewhere in a reading associated with that topic. Don't go off topic and do extra research. Again, your course outline will be your road map.
If the instructions ask for a short essay, usually that means you should make reference to the readings in the course that have points you can use in the essay. Ensure too that you are clear on how many support points you need or how long the essay should be (in most cases, probably about two or three pages double spaced) Chances are, your professor has also said that you MUST NOT USE any material from the Internet in your take home exam. He/she means it. These days we have all kinds of tools to check for copied wording either from the Internet or another student.
Don't use the internet for take home except...
The answers to your take home exam, as I've said are not on the Internet. Your professor will want you to demonstrate your understanding of some readings that were assigned. However, you can use the Internet as a kind of electronic "Cliff Notes", to cross reference information, find quick summaries (don't use them, though) and to look up terms. These are FYI only. Don't even think of referencing them or using them on your exam.
Don't do the exam with your classmate
Your friend won't have the answer to the test. Your professor will be watching for duplicate content anyhow. Sometimes, people who consult with each other end up turning in similar answers. I have seen this, and I have had to file plagiarism reports for students who submitted answers that were disarmingly similar.
Edit your work
The main advantage of a take home exam is the flexibility you get to create the best answers you can. One task you should do is to edit your work. I am more lenient on an in-class handwritten exam than I am on a take home where there is some time to edit. So, be sure to fix spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and to hand in the best possible version of your work.
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Do you prefer take home exams over classroom exams? Do you think classroom exams are easier?
Rhonda Malomet (author) from Toronto, Canada on April 22, 2013:
I like open book exams.