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How Instructors can Prepare Students for Exams

Updated article originally published February 1, 2021.

Exams can be stressful for both students and instructors. To maintain a sense of calm, it is important for instructors and students to feel ready for exam day.

Whether you are teaching online or giving in-person instruction, this article will help you visually and verbally communicate exam protocol and structure to students–ensuring everyone feels prepared before the exam begins.

Provide Exam Visual Cues

It is essential to provide visual cues for how long an answer a student should write. For example, use physical white space, a certain number of lines, a word count within the exam question or several points associated with the question. This approach sets students up for success by giving them a chance to think about how much of their knowledge they should articulate and preventing them from over-writing.

Prepare Students with a Materials Checklist

Another critical step is to communicate what a student should use or what tools a student will need during the exam. Giving an itemized list of suggested materials, such as a calculator, is incredibly valuable for giving students more confidence to perform better during the examination.

Offer Time Management Suggestions

Break down how students should use the exam period and how much time they should spend on each section. For example, “15 minutes for planning, 45 minutes to execute” helps structure how students use their time and gives them an advantage if they follow your advice. Helping your students practice proper time management can also reduce panic writing, prompting students to plan their exam sessions for optimal results.

Give Verbal Reminders

In addition to time management advice, you can further help your students by providing verbal timing cues during the exam. While the exam is in progress, you can offer verbal cues to let students know how much time they have left in the exam period or make them aware of their current progress. By announcing important time markers like one hour left, thirty minutes left, etc., your students will better understand their progress.

You can also use verbal cues to give your students a benchmark of their progress. Let your students know when they should have completed a specific section or a rough estimate of where they should be in the exam. For example, “Thirty minutes have passed. You should have completed the written portion of this exam.”

Share the Grading Breakdown and Details

Let your students know ahead of time how you will grade their exam and what they should keep in mind while completing the test. A rubric is a common way to share marking guidelines. Although grading criteria from one question to the next on the same assessment may seem repetitive, it is important to remind students about your expectations.

Tell Students to be Conscientious of Spelling and Grammar

Regardless of the course subject, remind your students if you plan to deduct marks for spelling and grammatical errors. Many students may rush their answers without proofreading their exam submission. If you tell students ahead of time that they may lose marks for language usage mistakes, they will likely be more careful when submitting an exam.

Advise Students to Review Their Answers

Students facing exam anxiety often race through their tests as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this leads to many mistakes or missed questions. The most important thing you can teach your students is to double-check every page before they click submit. Avoidable errors that are not caught before submission can significantly affect the student’s final grade–whether the mistakes are spelling and grammar errors or entire missed sections.

You can assist your students in remembering to review by:

  • Reminding your students when the exam begins
  • Reminding your students near the end of the exam period
  • Giving your students an additional 5-10 minutes after the exam period to proofread their work before final submission.

Familiarize Students with Assessment Platform

With an grading platform like Crowdmark, you can create exams and administer them to students through an easy-to-use interface. Both students and instructors benefit from the use of digital grading software and apps. However, using new technology for the first time during a test can needlessly increase stress.

When using a exam app, consider giving students a chance to see and interact with the assessment interface before the exam. Becoming familiar with the platform will go a long way to reducing pre-exam stress for students and helping them feel more comfortable with using technology for assessments in the classroom.

Reducing the Stress of Exams

Whether you are new to administering exams or you are a veteran, there is always something to learn about easing exam anxiety, Preparation and organization are key. The tips above are just the beginning of the ways in which you can help your students succeed. There are many more techniques to explore on your journey to better assessment.

Want to learn more about effectively administering exams? Read more here: