Preparing for and Writing a Take-Home Exam
- What is a take-home exam?
- Preparing for the take-home exam
- Writing the take-home exam
- Webcast: Preparing for the Take-Home Exam (2017)
What is a take-home exam?
A take-home exam, in contrast to an in-person or invigilated exam, is written outside of a supervised exam room. Rather than write during a set 3-hour period, students have a few days and up to a week to submit their exam. They also have access to their course materials during this time. Take-home exams typically ask one or more questions that require organized essay or long-form responses that address major themes in a course.
In their responses, students must include and appropriately cite specific evidence and examples from the course materials. Because the take-home exam is not written under the same time pressure as a sit-down exam, more attention should be paid to argumentation, organization, use of evidence, citation, and grammar.
It is very important to understand the form your take-home will take so you can be prepared in advance. Check your syllabus or online learning system (e.g., Blackboard) for a description of your exam before the exam questions are posted. Your professor may not tell you what specific content the exam will cover, but they will likely tell you what type of questions you can expect (short answer, long answer, case assessment, passage analysis, etc.).
Protect your Academic Integrity
All work you submit for credit must be individual, original, and free from unearned advantage.
For a take-home exam, it is important that you understand what materials or supports you can access as you plan, write, and revise. Some professors may permit students to access support from Academic Skills for a take-home exam. With express, written permission from the course instructor, Academic Skills instructors can offer feedback on your grammar and organization (not content) in a take-home exam. See our policy on take-home exams. It is important to take note of your professor’s exam instructions and ask for clarification if you need it.
It is also important to note that you should not be posting or accessing exam questions or responses to questions on sharing sites. Learn more about the Academic Integrity Policy and How to Protect your Academic Integrity in Online Learning.
Preparing for the take-home exam
You may believe it’s not necessary to prepare in advance for a take-home exam; perhaps you believe that it will be easy to pull course materials all together once you have the questions, or maybe you have limited time to prepare because you are studying for other exams. However, after review and preparation, you are better able to analyse the exam questions, approach the questions thoughtfully, and provide full, complete and clear responses.
In addition, review and preparation
- Reinforce your comprehension of course themes and content
- Foster your critical thinking about concepts, practical applications, and connections between ideas
- Help you to identify and organize key details and evidence that you will integrate into your responses
- Minimize the stress and frustration you experience when you encounter unfamiliar material or questions on the exam.
Unlike your study strategies for an invigilated exam, which may focus primarily on memory, your review and preparation for a take-home exam should support your understanding, analysis, synthesis, and application of course materials. Further, they should help you to retrieve information for your responses to the exam questions. Be sure your notes are complete and well-organized, and then take time to understand the big ideas of the course and how specific details inform these big ideas.
Start with the Syllabus
It’s easy to get lost in the details of a course and lose sight of its purpose; use the course objectives or themes laid out in the syllabus (often on the first page) to understand the framework of the course and the relationships between these details. You can also use the organization of the course – units, modules, chronology, systems, cases – to consider how specific content informs the big ideas of the course.
Review Course Content
First, ensure your notes on lectures, discussions, and readings for each weekly topic are complete. Identify any gaps in your understanding of material and make efforts to review the text and your notes.
Next, create a brief summary note, study chart or mind map of main ideas for each week, unit, or module. This will help you to connect ideas and details from readings, module content, and discussion board postings, which you will need to explain as part of your response in the exam. Later, when you write your exam, these notes will help you to plan your answers and find specific details in your notes and textbook.
Finally, review your study notes and look for connections between weekly units, topics, or modules
- What are the broader themes? How do you see these themes in different weekly topics?
- Use discussion questions and learning objectives to consider how each module addresses them.
- Create your own exam questions; consider what ideas and evidence you would use in your response to practice synthesizing material from the course.
Preparation doesn’t necessarily need to take a long time; certainly, attending class, completing readings, taking notes, and engaging in seminar or online discussions have already helped you to prepare for a take-home. These strategies help you to think ahead, stay organized, and set you up for success with your take-home exam.
Sample Study Chart
|Weekly Topic/Unit||Concept, Theory, System||Theorist, Source (page)||Explain it; Key words||Example, Application||Analysis: Connections, Assumptions|
|Week 1: Foundations|
Sample Mind Map
This figure shows that you can create subtopics for the central core concept; these may vary based on your course content and learning objectives. Potential subtopics illustrated here:
- Theorist or Author (include date)
- Explanation of Concept
- Context for Concept
- Examples or Application
- Support or Strengths
- Opposition or Weakness
The X framework, introduced by A (2006) and modified by B & C (2011), is used to . . . It is based on concept 1 and 2 . . . It is organized in 4 components: I, II, III, and IV. The benefits of this framework are . . . Critics of this framework (D, 2013 and E et al., 2016) explain . . . This framework has been applied successfully . . . See chapter 7 and lecture notes from week 4.
Writing the Take-home Exam
As with all exams, it is essential to take time to read all exam instructions and questions closely and carefully. Make a list of requirements: how many questions do you need to answer, how long must they be, how are you expected to cite sources, how many days/hours do you have to complete it, and how do you submit your final document?
Analyze the Question
Often, students struggle with exams because they don’t really answer the question directly or appropriately. It is important to analyze each exam question so you can understand it and provide a full and complete response.
- Read the question closely 2 or 3 times and break it down into parts:
- Understand the instructions. What are you being asked to do? Consider the meaning of the verbs: examine, assess, discuss, compare, argue, identify. Read more about analyzing free response questions on an exam.
- Carefully consider the topic or key words. Take time to define them based on course content and context.
- Acknowledge guidelines for each question: mark allocation, length requirements, relevant topics or authors, etc.
Plan your Response and Use your Notes
Once you have analyzed the question and understood the requirements, you can begin to consider your response. Start with your summary notes or study charts; they offer a quick overview of the course, and they can direct you to appropriate lecture notes, articles, or chapters.
Make a plan for your response. Your aim is to craft a direct and specific response that answers the question and follows the guidelines set out by your instructor. Outline the main ideas you will incorporate in your response and organize them in a clear and logical way. List the specific evidence and examples you will integrate and include citations at this stage to prevent plagiarism and save time.
Use Details and Organization to Demonstrate your Thinking
Recall that you are expected to analyze and synthesize course materials in your exam, so you need to do more than describe or summarize content. Explain concepts. Show connections between ideas. Reveal inconsistencies or gaps. Illustrate with examples and case studies. Present your thesis or controlling message in an introductory paragraph and develop your argument or present your case in paragraphs with evidence from the course before you summarize your message and explain its relevance or significance within the course context in a concluding paragraph.
Revise your Work: Don't submit the first draft
Overall, your task is to write full and complete responses that demonstrate your understanding and engagement with course materials. Therefore, it is important to take time to revise for your argument and content before you proofread your exam; this will help ensure that you submit work that reflects all of your hard work.
- Revise for higher order concerns: Do you state a clear thesis or point that is supported by specific evidence from the course? Do you demonstrate analysis and critical thinking about course themes?
- Revise for lower order concerns: Is your writing clear and grammatically correct? Have you included citations for all ideas that are not your own?
Student Accessibility Services has a great list of technical Tips for Take-home Exams and Online Learning