Helping students prepare for proctored final exams

Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

Those of us who assess with exams have seen remote online proctoring become a big part of our lives in 2020. Exams are stressful in regular years, but add the fact that our students now have to take on tasks that we have entire teams dedicated to, like finding exam rooms and preparing exam equipment. Teaching staff have also had to completely re-conceptualise our assessments. Here are some practical tips to help both you and your students prepare for ‘Type A’ (Live+) or ‘Type B’ (Review+) final exams.

Read through our advice, take a practice test

The Taking Online Exams Canvas site contains general information about online proctored exams, specific instructions about how to prepare for Type A and Type B exams, and a help centre for further support. Students will also find information about how academic plan adjustments are implemented, about how to book their exam timeslot (for Type A exams only), and about how privacy and security is being managed. If students are unable to take their exam(s) at home, links to on-campus bookings are available.

The two most important things students should do to prepare are to read through their exam site homepage when the site appears on their dashboard, and take a practice test. Practice tests will ensure students know what to expect from their real exam, and also give them a chance to test out their equipment. Students who completed practice tests in semester one reported a much better experience when taking their real exam(s). Instructions for staff on how to take these practice tests are also available, and we strongly recommend that all teaching staff involved in Type A or Type B exams complete whichever is relevant.   

Talk about exam stress

Stress and nervousness about exams have been around as long as exams themselves, and a change in form as significant as a move online brings an extra load of worry to the situation. Framing interventions are a proven way to minimise worry and maximise performance, and can be integrated very easily. Discussing the relevance and value of the exam with your students and asking them to reflect on its importance for their personal goals is an easy way to implement one of these. You could also set aside 10 minutes in a lecture or tutorial and, with the help of an anonymous Padlet, find out what’s on students’ minds to alleviate specific concerns.

Several solutions are available for students are concerned about access to the necessary technology to complete their exams. Students who are able to come on to main campus can book a spot to do so. If this isn’t an option, the University also offers general bursaries and interest-free loans accessible to both domestic and international students to assist in purchasing equipment. The Counselling and Psychological Services team also have a useful self-help resource to help students with exam preparation.

Set clear expectations about in-exam support

The exam support landscape has also changed. The raised hand has become a digital one, but exam stress and uncertainty around our new environment has meant that the location of the hand is easily and often missed. Teaching staff have been almost the entire support landscape for students up until the day of the exam, and our students can surely be forgiven for assuming this remains the case during their exams.

To ensure that students get onto the right support channel promptly, you could set  up an auto-reply on your staff email, scheduled for the date and time of the test. This will ensure that all students get the same information, regardless of their willingness to ask for help. A multitude of reasons exist for why students may not ask for help, disadvantaging them if help is offered to more enterprising peers.

Any concerns about the entire exam can be forwarded to ei.helpdesk@sydney.edu.au while it is running, but individual student issues must be managed equitably by referring to our managed support pathways.

Here are some draft options, amended slightly from the text placed on exam site homepages.

For Type A exams

For students of UNITXXXX, unfortunately I can’t offer support while our exam is running.

If you are having trouble starting your exam, please refer to the starting your Live+ exam troubleshooting page. For any other technical support, please refer to the help centre.

If a problem affects you completing your exam, describe it on a Student Declaration and apply for Special Consideration.

If you are uncertain about a question during the exam, answer to the best of your ability. Afterwards, email me with information including the question, and question number.

For Type B exams

For students of UNITXXXX, unfortunately I can’t offer support while our exam is running.

If you are having trouble starting your exam, please refer to the  starting your Review+ exam troubleshooting page. For any other technical support, please refer to the help centre.

If a problem affects you completing your exam, describe it on a Student Declaration and apply for Special Consideration.

If you are uncertain about a question during the exam, answer to the best of your ability. Afterwards, email me with information including the question, and question number.

Tell me more!

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