What I’ve learned from this online exam season

Online exams aren’t always easier than in-person testing.

How I delt with my anxiety surrounding online exams.

Last year, with the vaccine roll-out in its early stages and Ontario slipping in and out of lockdown, I was prepared long in advance for online exams. This past December, however, the sudden transition from in-person exams to an online exam season was anxiety-inducing.

Some students were relieved, since online exams reduced the risk for COVID-19 exposure on-campus, but I dealt with unexpected challenges and anxieties when it came time to write.

I’ve found the lead-up to online exams brings with it a sense of false security.

Because there’s no in-person component, the actual writing of exams feels less daunting. Online exams can be written from the comfort of your own room, without the nervous clicking of pens, flipping of pages, and the contagious anxiety that fills a formal exam space.

During this exam season, I quickly changed my mindset from preparing to write formally and in-person to preparing to write casually and online.

This made it much more difficult to motivate myself to study effectively. It almost seemed as if that finality or closure of writing a formal final exam was taken away.

The sense of security that comes with online exams was misleading. My exams were equal in difficulty to what I would’ve expected from an in-person exam, and the presence of a proctor mimicked the experience of writing in an exam room.

I learned the preparation required leading up to an online or in-person exam should be equal, despite differences in environment. This was a difficult reality to wrap my mind around. However, once I did, I established a few routines to help with mitigating the stress that came with it.

Firstly, I came to understand the importance of studying in a different place than I slept or spent most of my time. The pandemic can make finding study spaces difficult because coffee shops and libraries are inaccessible, but I found even the simple switch from bedroom desk to kitchen table had a positive impact on the way I studied.

It was interesting to experience the relationship between space and learning. For me, a change in workspace correlated to a change in mindset, allowing me to access more energy and reduce the stress that would often build up in a certain place.

This exam season also taught me the importance of mental health walks, since getting outside between study sessions really improved my focus. Amid online classes and exam preparation, I found that breaking up the study days with fresh air helped me to change both my environment and pace by going on walks or runs.

Spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen made my body ache and my eyes sore, but this was quickly remedied when I dedicated some time each day to spend outdoors.

Writing online exams can be anxiety-inducing and stressful, forcing us to spend most of our time inside behind our laptops. I learned, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns, the importance of changing up my study environment and prioritizing a breath of fresh air between online readings and Zoom lectures.


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