Back to the Classroom: How to Readjust to In-Person Exams

With midterms being in full swing this week, you’ve most likely started reviewing concepts and studying for these exams. However, another crucial part of the preparation process is to readjust to the in-person exam experience. After a year and a half of taking exams virtually, it is important to recognize that exams in the classroom will look and feel very different, so don’t let that take you by surprise. Whether you are studying for midterms or want to start thinking about final exams, here are a few key tips when it comes to taking exams at Princeton in person:

McDonnell A01, a large lecture hall where one of my midterms is taking place this semester
  • Ask your professor if the exam will be open or closed book. Because of the virtual environment, many exams in the past school year were open book. However, many professors are returning to closed book exams now that exams are in person again. For this reason, it is a good idea to check the syllabus and/or clarify whether your midterms or final exams will be open or closed book ahead of time so you are not caught by surprise a few days before the exam. For studying for closed-book tests, I find it helpful to make a running list over the course of the semester consisting of important formulas or key points from the course. Compiling this into a study guide makes the reviewing and studying process much more efficient.
  • Know how to budget your time. With virtual classes, some of my exams had extended time periods to take the exams (24-hour organic chemistry exams, and other classes with five-hour final exams). However, in-person exams typically have stricter time limits, with 1.5 hours for midterms and 3 hours for final exams. So, make sure to pace yourself when taking the exam, and it also is a good idea to time your practice exams to get used to this pacing beforehand.
  • Practice on paper. For virtual classes, many of my professors allowed students to take and submit exams digitally. However, with in-person exams comes the return of taking exams with pencil and paper. Yes, tablets can make it easier by being able to erase an entire page at once or drag and drop different formulas or sentences. But with pencil and paper, you have to erase a sentence or rewrite a formula by hand, which could take more time than with a tablet. I find it helpful to do my practice exams on physical sheets of paper so I can get used to the timing and pacing that comes with writing on paper.
  • Know your environment. Although virtual exams give the convenience of being able to take the test from the comfort of your own home (or bed even), in-person exams do not. In addition, you will likely be taking the exam in a lecture hall, surrounded by other students, which can be distracting if you are not used to this. So, make sure you do your practice tests in an environment that could mimic the testing situation. Maybe go to the library or a coffee shop and get used to the distractions that come with being in a room filled with people while trying to take an exam. Also, if the exam room is different from the normal lecture classroom, try to find the room prior to exam day to make sure you know where it is located.
  • Bring more than just the necessities. In addition to multiple pens or pencils, there are other items that you should think about bringing to your exam. If you need a calculator, make sure to bring that because you won’t be able to pull it out of your desk drawer during the exam like you would if you were at home. Additionally, I like to pack a bottle of water, tissue if needed, and a sweatshirt in case it gets cold. You won’t be in the comfort of your own room, so it’s better to be prepared for different environments.

It is important to be mentally prepared for your upcoming exams, so, in addition to the normal studying, make sure you are familiar with the expectations in place for your in-person exams. Having the right mindset is half the battle for succeeding on an exam, so don’t overlook this aspect of it. If you have any questions or need clarification on policies, be sure to ask your instructor.

Good luck on midterms and final exams later this semester!

Bridget Denzer, Engineering Correspondent