3 Tips on How to Succeed in Online (Essay-Based) Exams – OurWarwick

3 Tips on How to Succeed in Online (Essay-Based) Exams

Hong Kong
Understanding sustainability, implementing it in real life and seeing the…
Find out more about me Contact Harry

With all exams held online last year, I’ve had plenty of experiences to learn from to make sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes. I must admit, my exam performances in the first 2 or 3 online exams were not as successful as I would have hoped, and whilst everyone will have their unique ways of preparing for online exams, here are 3 of the most valuable lessons I learnt over the course of the year, leading up to a very successful summer exam.


The advantage with my online exams was that it was open-book, meaning that we were allowed to use our notes, unlike ‘traditional’ paper exams sat in halls where you would have nothing but a pen and a paper.

This is why it is crucial that you have detailed lecture, reading and seminar notes from EVERY week, but even more important that you prepare beforehand the exam to condense the notes into very brief summary/bullet points, so that when you need to look up that specific case study or theory, you know where you can find the detailed analysis from your notes.

The way I did it was to make detailed notes as per the lecture, seminar, and reading, then, I would create a limit of 50 words which very briefly covers all the topics covered during that week, without explaining anything. This means that when the exam question relates to say ‘Environmental Kuznets Curve’, I would then look at which weeks covered this topic, and then focus on building my answer with the help of my detailed notes from that week. This saves up a lot of valuable time trying to scatter through your notes trying to find relevant information to create the best answer. You may even want to write a list of the brief summary on a piece of paper, so you don’t have to have that many tabs open.


In my first 2 exams, I made the mistake of just simply reading the essay question, then diving straight in with no clear format of what to put in my intro, main body, evaluation, and conclusion. Although I had a brief idea of the structure I wanted to follow, I didn’t actually know what type of content I should put in the sections, and was literally writing them down as I read through my notes. The biggest problem was that as I went through my notes, I realised maybe I should have put something earlier in the essay, but if I change it now, the whole essay would not flow as logically, and so essentially I missed out on putting a really good point in earlier for the sake of finishing my essay on time.

By structuring an essay, not only do you have to know what you’re putting in each section: Intro, main argumentation, critique/evaluation, and conclusion, but you should also give yourself a rough timeline to stick to for when you aim to complete each section. E.g if the exam is 2 hours long, I may spend the first 15 minutes going through my notes completely to make sure I know everything I want to include in the essay, 5 minutes to do the essay plan, 15 minutes writing the intro, 20 minutes on the first argument, 20 minutes for the second argument, 20 minutes for the evaluation, 15 minutes for the conclusion, and the remaining time to double check, submit the exam and even polishing the essay if your plan was executed that well.


Familiarise yourself with your surroundings- practice writing essays under timed conditions in the same place you intend to take the exam, at the same time (they usually have a 12-24 hour window to complete the exam, so if you’re not a morning person and work well at night, try to do your exam whenever you work best). Remove all uncertainties such as ensuring the place you’re taking the exam has stable wifi, and essentially create an environment where your work just becomes ‘automatic’ once the exam starts.

Another overlooked aspect was that I did not consider how close to a meal I took the exam, because you tend to use the bathroom more frequently after a meal. Therefore, try to make sure you’re fully digested but also energised in time for your exam, and get into the habit of knowing how your body works optimally, which requires consistent experimentation over an extended period of time, but this little bit of discipline will undoubtedly be worth it come exam time. Just make sure you don’t try something new or unfamiliar in the day of your exam, e.g having extra caffeine when you’re used to only 1 cup of coffee, as you never know how you might react!

Anyways, best of luck with your exams, if you need any more help feel free to pop them in the comments section and I will try my best to answer them!

Hong Kong
Understanding sustainability, implementing it in real life and seeing the…
Find out more about me Contact Harry

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