A linear exam is an exam that is administered and monitored by proctoring software in which you are unable to move backward in the exam to change prior answers. Online exam taking programs often require a login, track your time, and prevent changes after the testing window is closed. Sometimes these programs prevent you from clicking out of the testing window or prevent copy-pasting to discourage plagiarism. You may have taken versions of these kinds of tests in the form of Blackboard quizzes or exams. In the case of linear exams, the exam format has been chosen in order to help maintain test integrity and discourage cheating through unauthorized collaboration.
Linear exams can require some special strategizing insofar as test-taking strategies familiar from traditional take-home exams don’t always apply. For example, you won’t be able to double check your answers or otherwise make use of any time still remaining once you’ve completed the exam. You also won’t be able to complete easier questions before going back to more difficult ones since there is no way to return to skipped questions. However, there are strategies for taking linear exams so that you can still complete all of the questions to the best of your ability within the time allotted.
Study with time in mind. Linear exams are often open book and allow you to consult your course materials and notes, but watch out for the “open book, easy exam” fallacy. A common pitfall is to assume you do not need to study for these exams because you get to use your notes. However, if you spend too much time searching for information, you will run short on time for the exam. Since you’ll be working on questions one-at-a-time with time constraints, optimize your notes for consulting quickly. Here are some strategies you can try:
Whatever approach you use, practice it while preparing homework or while studying so it’s familiar by the time of the test. Not sure how to practice?
Make a practice test. Collaborate with classmates to create your own practice test questions. Have each person create a few questions, and then ask someone in the group—or a friend outside of the group if you want to create a sense of surprise—to assemble the questions into a single document. Create a reasonable time limit for your practice test and then move through it in a linear fashion, just the way you will be required to progress through the real test. You’ll have to be disciplined while you engage in the experiment and not look ahead or skip around within the practice test. But the practice can help you get used to the feeling of moving through a linear exam.
Set yourself up to succeed. Virtual exams present opportunities for creating a testing space that works for you. Consider the environment you need to feel prepared and focus. Consult our Take-Home Exams tip sheet or our Test Day Game Plan tool for ideas.
If you are new to linear exams, it may be easy to get flustered during the exam or to become anxious about moving ahead accidentally. Using a methodical process to answer each question can reduce this anxiety and keep you on track to answer each question within the allotted time. Here are some steps you might include in your process:
This last step is very important, since it is not possible to check an answer after moving on to the next question!
Remember, when taking a linear exam, you cannot start with easier questions or test sections, come back to difficult questions, or double-check answers at the end of the exam. So you need to avoid taking too much time on a question by discerning when you need to move to the next one.
Linear exams can be stressful because you have less control over how you navigate the exam and you may have less experience with them as well. See this tip sheet on test anxiety for information on how to identify the symptoms of test anxiety, who to consult if the anxiety is extreme, and how to manage nerves related to all types of exams.
Connect with your class. Because linear exams do not let you return to harder questions, you may want to ask your instructors about what material is specifically being tested and how they recommend studying for the exam. What have they heard from other students who have successfully navigated this exam format? You can also check out these tips for studying effectively, or, if your exam is for a STEM course, you can start with our tips on studying for STEM.
Developed and shared by The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.