COVID-19 and Online Exams-Top Tips

By Sophie Lowden


I’m Sophie, a Newcastle University medical student in my third year. When applying for medicine, I knew that in the years to come I would face challenges linked to my dream career; however, the development of COVID-19 has had an impact on my degree I never could have predicted - one of these being the introduction of online exams.

University suddenly moved to online teaching from the end of March, so having to adapt to these changes whilst fearing for the health of my friends and family was sometimes a struggle. This also involved me having to move home for the foreseeable future and trying to work in a busy household with two noisy dogs can be quite the task!

Being given six weeks to prepare for a newly announced online exam from my medical school meant that I had to make changes to maximise my learning remotely and to ensure that I could still get the best possible grades under the circumstances. Fast forward a few months and the small changes I made were reflected in my grades - achieving 99.33% and being among the top of the year shows that I must have been doing something right!

The set-up of my online exam was over 24 hours. The first 21 hours, we were sent a PDF of the questions (Newcastle uses Single Best Answer exams) and were able to work through our answers in that period by saving the PDF as we went along. The next day, we were sent a link to a website in which we would put in our answers over the last 3 hours and where we could always go back to questions or flag them if need be. Not every online exam may be like this, so the tips I give will be of a broad spectrum.

Looking to the future, some medical schools may still be doing online exams come Christmas time and beyond, so hopefully a few tips I give in this article will help some of you to prepare:


1. Organise and condense notes

Our school allowed us to use our notes during the exam, however sifting through a year’s worth of notes takes up time - even if I had 24 hours! To cut down on time, I made mind maps of conditions, anatomy and physiology, so I could quickly consolidate my knowledge linked to the question. This is one of the best things you can do whilst revising too, as you can test yourself on how much of a topic you know, and rewriting content helps lock it into your memory.


2. Find a quiet place with good signal

This is more relevant to sitting the exam but is also helpful with revision. Whether you will be in student accommodation or at home with family, it is vital that you try to mimic the atmosphere of an exam hall as much as possible. If you have a room that you normally work in, stick to that. If not, tell your housemates about the exam and to try keep the noise down - the last thing you need is a loud Netflix marathon going on in the next room. Good signal is also recommended; if the internet cuts off in the middle of the exam, it adds extra pressure to you and the admin department to try and resolve it in a timed setting. 3. Learn the content!

Even though I could use my notes to blindly get through the exam, as medical students this is information we actually need to know - skipping out on revision just because the ‘answers will be in front of you’ will not help you treat patients in the future! Use the new remote learning system to work out a technique that really helps you maximise your learning and promise yourself you’ll actually use it to learn the content.

4. Stick to a routine

When working from home, it is easy to feel like you’re not working at all. I still tried to act as if I was at Uni, this meant getting up at 7am every morning and making sure I was starting work no later than 9am. I gave myself an hour lunch break to go on my phone, then went back to working till 6pm (with the odd break). This meant I was in the right mentality to learn, and by the time some of my friends were getting up I had already put in a few hours of revision! For me, routine is also vital to maintaining good mental health, something we can all try work towards during this unsteady time.

There are many tips that I could mention when it comes to online exams, however I feel like these are the main ones that shouldn’t be forgotten about, no matter how simple and obvious they may seem. Different tips will work for different people, and as online exams are situations not many of us have experienced before, don’t put pressure on yourself to find your routine immediately. Ask your friends/tutors for advice and smash these online exams!

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