How to Prepare for At-Home Online College Exams in 2021?

Posted on:
Student Lifehacks
at-home online college exams in 2020

This year has completely changed our lives, including the examination format. As has been discussed round and about, this year’s AP exams are taken at home in an online form. Well, you probably know the details about online college exams. SAT and ACT, while postponed, might take place as at-home exams in the end. GMAT and LSAT have online proctored options this summer too.

Since the dates for this year’s AP exams are approaching, I bet you’re thrilled, reviewing your exam prep textbooks over and over again! For some of us, this format would seem more advantageous and comfortable than a traditional AP exam. However, taking an at-home exam can be tricky and comes with several hidden dangers. If you want to achieve the best performance on the day of your test and feel confident—follow the tips and step-by-step actions we discuss below. 

Since the AP exams are around the corner, we’ll mostly cover this format. However, most of the tips are relevant for GMAT, LSAT, or other online college exams as long as you check the exact requirements and restrictions, like if you can use supporting materials or not. The College Board has graciously refunded those who decided not to take exams in this year of uncertainty. But since you’re reading this article, you have probably chosen to take this year’s AP exams and have already undergone a year of preparations. These tips are not about binge-studying through your test prep books in two days. These last few weeks before the exam are crucial for reviewing the materials, practicing information retrieval, and getting acquainted with the exam format. Off we go! 

What to Do before Online College Exams?

First of all, you should make sure you know the date of your exams. If you haven’t yet, check the AP exam schedule for this May here, highlight these dates in your calendar (mind the time zone), and put a reminder. Not only is it essential not to be late for your test but also to assess realistically how much time is left for last-minute revisions.

mark the exam date in your calendar
Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Second, note that the AP exams include only open-response questions, while some of the topics are not included in the examinations. Cross the unnecessary items out of the list of topics, as well as mark only the necessary pages in your prep materials. By this, you visualize the amount of knowledge and skills you need to perform on the exam day. Make a realistic prep schedule and use the days and weeks before the exams not to learn something new but to review your knowledge and put it in line with the expectations of the examiners. And how should you proceed with it?

Watch AP YouTube Videos

These videos are an invaluable resource, so incorporate them into your review routine (mind that there are also a bunch of useful handouts). How to practice with these videos? One option would be to watch a video (or a few) on one subject. Afterward, take a blank piece of paper and try to retrieve all the essential terms, dates, and processes covered in the video. Make sure to write this out of your memory—we’ve written about the importance of practicing retrieval here. This practice will give you a “reality check”: do you really know this topic, or should you spend more time revising it? 

Practice Sample Tests 

The College Board provides on its webpage sample tests for all disciplines, so you should (or even must) take a few before the exam. You will get acquainted with the format, especially now that it has considerably changed. Try to evaluate your answers yourself with the provided scoring guidelines, or exchange your sample tests with friends. Put yourself in the examiner’s shoes! You can form a study group with your peers to tackle difficult topics you’ve found in the textbooks. 

You should also practice quickly finding information in your notes when needed. You can devise a system (color coding with post-its or anything that works for you) so that you save time searching for the background information and give more attention to solving the problem. If you prefer writing your online college exams by hand, you should practice that too. Also, check the procedure of submitting the solution in advance so that it doesn’t eat up your time on the exam.

prep textbooks and exam guides are essential for passing AP tests
Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

Review Best Prep Books and AP Exam Guidelines 2021

I doubt that you haven’t bought any test prep books, but if you don’t have any—get one immediately! These textbooks provide you with a content review and a structured action plan on how to tackle this or that topic, what to be mindful of, and other subject-specific tips. The information in these exam guides and prep materials is unique, so don’t underestimate the help you’ll get! Moreover, these textbooks include more sample tests for you to practice. 

Here you can find a variety of AP exam guides and other prep materials—BooksRun offers the best prices and quick shipping. If you don’t want to invest in your own copy, you can always rent test prep books. Obviously, when you complete your exams, you can sell the textbook and get a valuable buyback for it.

Imitate the New Setting

If one can have a wedding rehearsal, you can have an exam rehearsal too. Choose a sample test from the AP website or your exam guide, set a timer (AP exams are only 45 minutes long this year), and get going. Choose now the gadget and software you will use during the test. It is crucial to practice with a timer to get used to the time constraint. So the more you rehearse, the more familiar the real exam day will be.

taking sample test before the online exam
Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

Find Your Stress-Relief Routine

Don’t devote all your free time to studying the exam prep textbooks. Make room for relaxing activities since they largely contribute to your physical and mental well-being, which are crucial for excellent performance on the exam day. Meditate, do yoga, cook, arrange zoom-calls with friends—all these things help you handle stress in college. Both social activities and solitude help you relax and free your mind from Physics or U.S. History.

What to Do on the Exam Day?

There is no more room for reviewing the materials, so don’t hastily browse through your notes. Better start your day as usual and have a short meditation session. Next, set the table and space around you. Don’t forget to notify your family members to keep quiet for these 45 minutes; also, switch off any notifications. Prepare a bottle of water and snacks if you feel you might need them; make sure you’re not hungry when you sit down for the exam.

arranging the exam prep books for the at-home exam
Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

Then, set up the supporting materials and notes you might need for the free-response question. Get a watch so you can keep track of time. Prepare the device (laptop, tablet, or phone) for the exam. Check the power and connection as well as plan backup options (If the internet is down, can you get a hotspot from your phone? Are all the chargers at hand?).

As a footnote—check the AP exam guidelines 2021 for the subject you’re taking.

Last, be on time, at least 30 minutes in advance—you would need to register, prove your identity, and go through other formalities. And, of course, don’t even try to cheat and consult with your friends. You’ve studied hard enough to excel in this test on your own! 

sell your exam prep books after the test
Photo by Jaeyoung Geoffrey Kang on Unsplash

What to Do after the AP Exams?

Post-exam anxiety is terrible: you’re waiting for the results, building all kinds of scenarios for your future… Well, you should not give up on your stress-relief routine. And finally, you have time to turn to your hobbies and other projects postponed because of the exam preparations. While waiting for the results, don’t forget to get rid of the test prep books you don’t need anymore. By selling them, you can declutter your room (here you can read about some tips for students) and earn some money!

BooksRun wishes you the best of luck—fingers crossed!

Iliana K