How to Prepare for an Online Exam
Ever since the start of 2020, when the COVID-19 Pandemic began to impact the delivery of medical exams around the globe, we’ve been working hard to support candidates through this period of uncertainty.
Now that many of the key medical exams have introduced an online format for written papers (including MRCP Part 1, MRCS Part A, MRCPCH FOP/TAS and AKP, MSRA and Primary FRCA (MCQ)), we wanted to collate the experiences of our customers sitting these exams, to ensure that future candidates are prepared for this new challenge.
Sitting an exam at home has its advantages, but it also presents some unique challenges for candidates, including some that you might not think to address before exam day. Each examining body set their own regulations as to how remote exams are conducted, however, there are some common themes that all candidates should consider.
Before Exam Day
Check your tech!
Before even booking an online exam, make sure to check the technical requirements from the examining body. Make sure that you are running a valid operating system, with an exam-compatible browser installed. In particular, run an internet speed test, and make sure that your connection is up to the task.
Where's your webcam?
If you're sitting an exam that doesn't involve using your phone as a remote camera, you may want to consider using an external webcam. Candidates are required to show the proctor around the room using the webcam before starting the exam, which can be difficult to do if you have a laptop with a built-in webcam.
Put down the pen and paper
Some online exams do not permit you to use a pen and paper during the exam - you'll have to use an online notepad provided in the exam interface. If you're sitting one of these exams, candidates reported that it was difficult to make this switch on exam day, particularly for calculating equations. We recommend that you practice this in advance using a notepad app on your computer.
Prepare your exam environment
Make sure that the room that you’re sitting in is clear of any posters, revision notes, textbooks, or other items that could potentially help you out during an exam. Make sure to do a thorough sweep, including your walls, under your desk, and even your ceiling! Many exams start with a video tour of the exam environment to ensure that there are no visual aids that the candidate can use to get an unfair advantage.
Candidates have told us that they put ‘do not disturb’ signs on the door of their exam room, and even on their front door, to ensure peace and quiet.
Make sure to check the requirements from your examining body – there may be other requirements, such as removing any additional monitors on your desk.
Make sure that everyone around you is aware
If you live with family or friends, it’s important that they know not to interrupt you during the exam. If anyone else enters the exam room, or you talk to someone during the exam, it may well result in your immediate disqualification from the sitting.
This doesn’t just apply to humans! In fact, one candidate from a recent MSRA exam told us that the invigilators are reviewing her exam footage, as she was disturbed by her cat during the exam. Make sure that your pets are out of the way and suitably entertained!
Some candidates have also complained about noise from outside their own residence, so if you’re on good terms with your neighbours, it would be worthwhile mentioning to them too!
Set up your devices
Let’s start simple. This may seem obvious, but make sure that your devices are plugged in! If your laptop or phone runs out of battery during the exam, it could spell disaster. Remember that both will be streaming video from the moment you begin, so this will drain the battery faster.
Top Tip - if you're using your phone as a remote proctor device, make sure to use the rear camera, so that you're not distracted by anything popping up on the screen during the exam.
If you can, plug in to your modem/router directly with an ethernet cable to ensure a more stable connection than WiFi.
Depending on which exam you’re sitting, you’ll likely need to download software, browser extensions, and even mobile apps ahead of exam day. Do this well in advance, and run any system checks provided to ensure that your devices are capable of delivering the exam.
On Exam Day
Now this might seem like the lowest of your priorities, but give it some thought before you sit down to take the exam. Make sure that you’re comfortable, warm enough, and that you’re not wearing anything that the invigilators might consider suspect. We know that several candidates have been told that they can't wear a hoodie, and if you’ve got clothes with lots of writing on, perhaps opt for something plainer. We have heard from several candidates that your pyjamas are perfectly acceptable attire!
Plan your time
Check to see if you’re allowed a bathroom break. If not, make sure you’ve planned ahead accordingly. Even if you are allowed a bathroom break during the exam, you may have to re-scan your room with the camera before you resume answering questions. If you’re sitting a long exam with two papers, have a snack planned for the break – it might give you enough time to get outside for a short while, and reset before sitting down to the second paper.
Get into an exam mindset
Several candidates have shared that they found it difficult to get into a proper mindset for an exam while sitting in their bedroom in their pyjamas! One candidate suggested doing a few Pastest questions in advance to get in the right frame of mind. Note - we're not suggesting last-minute cramming here! Candidates also report eye strain and fatigue due to the length of time looking at the screen during the exam, so keep your pre-exam session short.
Only log in when you're ready to start
Don't be late... but be prepared for the fact that if you log in to the exam interface early, your exam may begin straight away. Some candidates reported that they were expecting to see a countdown timer taking them up to the start of the exam, but actually ended up starting the exam earlier than expected.
Utilise the exam interface to its fullest
Depending on the exam provider, you'll likely have the ability to highlight sections of the vignette and strike-through answers. Candidates report that this is particularly useful if you need to come back to a question later on, as it's quick to see which options you've already ruled out.
Make sure to pay attention to all of the information displayed on the screen. Candidates from one exam reported that the category of the question was listed in the corner of the screen, which helped guide them to see what knowledge the question was looking to test, and therefore what kind of answer they should be looking for.
Most exams allow you to have a glass of water beside you, but again, make sure it’s a clear, plain glass. Cups of coffee are not allowed in some exams!
Many of the exams have a rule stating that you can't gaze around the room during the exam. This is important to remember - particularly if you are thinking something over. Unfortunately, this has caught some candidates out, who have then had to show the proctor around the room again to prove that it was an innocent mistake.
Advice from a previous online candidate
We asked Matt Lee, a candidate in the MRCP Part 1 September 2020 sitting to share his experience of sitting the exam online. This was Matt's first experience of an online exam, and he passed with a scaled mark in the top 10% of candidates. Even if you're not an MRCP candidate, this video has some great tips and advice for sitting an online exam, and clear guidance on how to set up your tech.
We hope that your exam goes well, and that you manage to avoid any technical difficulties on the day. If you’ve got some advice for online exam takers, or you think that we’ve missed something important, let us know! We’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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In Medical Revision on Friday, 29th January, 2021