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Advice for preparing for online final exams and assignments

Whakamahukitanga mo te Mate Kurahauao – Mō ngā tauira

During these challenging COVID‑19 times, the University continues to provide teaching and assessment, including exams and final assessments, but much of this work is now online. As you prepare for your final assessments, take a minute to reflect on how studying and revising for your final assessments can support your goals.

We have put together some general advice as the exam and final assessment period approaches. This information will supplement the Exams resource on the Blackboard site UNIO101: Getting started at Otago, which is open to every student.

There will be examinations or final assessments at every COVID‑19 Alert Level so keep up the studying and revision.

You must check with your paper’s Blackboard, Moodle or departmental student platform to find out your final assessment or exam details, as these may have changed from the start of your course.

Check the exam timetable or eVision for the date and time of your exams.

For students required to use ExamSoft to sit their exams

Please read the information from your course co-ordinator, then go to the ExamSoft blog for all exam information.

ExamSoft blog

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For students taking final assignments or exams using other methods of delivery

You will be sitting your exams where you normally live and study (your study space) during the examination period. If your living space is unsuitable for an exam, you can apply for one of the limited spaces available on campus. Please check your communications from the University for details on how to apply for these spaces.

Final examination or assessment

The final assessment may be an assignment or an exam this semester.

No exam

Your paper may have moved to 100% internal assessment. There will be an assessment of the knowledge you have gained in your paper, but it will be through an assignment. If your paper is doing this, get all the details as soon as possible from your paper’s Blackboard, Moodle or departmental student platform and plan for a top rate assignment. For some papers, the final assessment will be submitted before the last week of teaching. For other papers, it will be submitted on the last day of the examination period.

Listed below are an Otago Essay guide and a link to Essay Planning and Writing for some help. Resources from Student Learning Development are also available. Always ask your teaching staff if you are unsure what is expected in an assignment.


All centrally-run exams are time-limited and timetabled for a set date, time and duration (normally two or three hours). Your exam will involve Blackboard, Moodle or a subject-specific platform and the delivery of the exam will generally be either:

  • an exam that will be downloaded, completed offline, then uploaded
  • an exam that is taken fully online within your platform
  • or an exam that is a combination of both online and download/upload delivery

Resources available in an exam

Access to resources during an exam will vary for each paper you take. Access to resources can range from fully open-book (which means you can access whatever you think you need for the exam), limited resources access (e.g. a list of useful formulae or the use of an approved calculator), or your exam may be closed-book where you are not allowed to access any resources, including any electronic ones, except your online exam and your computer.

You need to know the rules for any assignment or exam and follow these rules in the final assessment to avoid any suggestion of academic misconduct. You need to check Blackboard, Moodle or the departmental student platform for each of your papers to see how they will be handling the final exams, and if this is unclear, contact your paper co-ordinator.

Academic integrity

Every student is expected to show honesty and integrity in their academic work to protect the mana of an Otago degree. Every final assessment will have a cover sheet that sets out the academic integrity expectations you agree to uphold by sitting the assessment. You need to know the rules around the resources you are permitted to use.

Your paper may also use Turnitin to check your work, so remember to use your own words when answering any question. You will be provided with instructions on how to use Turnitin if needed. If you have an open-book exam, don’t just copy information from outside sources into your exam. You need to follow the rules of your paper to paraphrase, quote and cite the information correctly.

Find out more on Academic Integrity and Academic Misconduct at the University of Otago

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General COVID‑19 exam preparation and exam sitting tips

These suggestions build on the Exams resource on the Blackboard site, UNIO101: Getting started at Otago.

General tips

Open-book exams

These types of exams are still a challenge. They require just as much study and organisation as a closed-book exam. You need to know the subject, have your approved resources organised for quick retrieval and know how to use your resources to answer a question. There may also be higher expectations of the quality of the answers in this type of exam because of the resources you can access.

Download/upload exams

This type of exam is similar to the traditional exam but with the exam paper handed out and collected via the internet. You will normally be typing on a computer, so remember to save your work frequently. Keep a close eye on the time while taking the exam and set an alarm for 15 minutes before the upload time limit. Before uploading your exam, read it over and check long answer or essay questions for typos and content. Don’t wait till the last minute to upload your work and keep a record of submission, such as a screenshot if possible.

Online exams

The exam is online; often multi-choice or short answer questions. Read the instructions very carefully for this exam. Keep a close eye on the time while in the exam and set an alarm for 15 minutes before the time limit. Find out if you can select the order of the questions to answer (as in a paper-based exam) or there  is a set order to the questions. Also, find out if you will be able to go back and review or change your answers during the exam. Make sure you ‘submit’ on time and keep a record of submission, such as a screenshot or photo if possible.

If something happens to disrupt your exam

Get evidence (make some notes, note the time, take a screenshot) and contact AskOtago as soon as possible on 0800 80 80 98 or +64 3 479 7000, unless your exam coversheet gives you a different contact.

Preparation for the exam

Start revising for your exams. If you have started, keep up the study. You will already know the paper’s content and learning objectives, so use these to revise.

Research the exam format and conditions

While you revise, look for information on the delivery of the exam, the format of the exam (e.g. three essays from a choice of five or seven short answers and two essay topics), and the rules for the exam for each of your papers from Blackboard, Moodle or the paper’s departmental student platform. The format of the exam will help you refine your study closer to the exam date. See Exams in UNIO101: Getting started at Otago for the details.

Check eVision and the exam timetable web page to find out when your exams are on.


Planning to study for an exam and preparing to sit the exam are important parts of the exam process, so go to Exams in UNIO101: Getting started at Otago on Blackboard for tips. Having your exam at home, in your flat or in your college room on a computer does need some additional planning.

Start practising typing now, especially if your typing skills could use some work, by typing up your notes and typing the answers to practice exam questions.

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Your computer, internet or exam environment challenges

If you know you have computer or internet problems, follow this up with AskOtago. Note: for more reliable internet in your study space, if you can, plug the computer into the router with an Ethernet cable.

If you are not in New Zealand, are in a different time zone and have not been contacted by the Examinations team, please email about your situation.

Exam times

Let everyone in your study space know when your exams are scheduled so they can support you at this time. If you share your study space with other students, create a shared exam timetable. Everyone will then know when to be quiet and when to get off the internet, so you have the full bandwidth. If you are sharing any resources, this schedule will also help you figure out when each of you will need things. If exam timetables overlap in your space, then you have time to manage this overlap. If the conditions in your study space are not fit for an exam, apply for a space on campus (see your University communications for details on how to apply for these spaces).

Also, your internal body clock may have drifted out of the usual 9–5 daily routine during online learning. Make sure you are actively studying at the time you would normally be sitting an exam (9:30am or 2:30pm) so your brain is at peak working condition at exam time.

Your study space exam room

If you can, choose your space to be just like an exam room. Set it up to avoid unwanted interruptions and distractions. Make sure that:

  • You are in a comfortable typing position and can type for up to three hours – Ergonomic tips for laptop users (PDF)
  • You have all the resources you are allowed around you and the space to use them
  • Your computer can be plugged into the power and internet
  • You can meet all the rules set by your paper for your exam conditions

Take a practice exam

It is really important to test your exam setup. Practise taking an exam in your exam study space at the same exam time, complete with permitted materials, a timer with an alarm, the critical contact information and a practice question (look at previous years’ exams, make a question up, or take a practice exam if available), so you know things will work.


We know this is a challenging time for many of you but staying motivated is a critical part of studying. Try setting up online study groups with friends. If motivation remains a challenge, try writing down why you are at university and what your goals are. Discussing your goals with friends and whānau may help you get back to the big picture at this time. Remember that you have worked hard this semester – possibly harder than you expected –- and the exam is just a method of measuring what you have learnt. You deserve to showcase how much you have learnt.

You can also look at Health and Wellbeing Support in the Help and Support section of UNIO101: Getting started at Otago and visit the Wellbeing page on the OUSA student support HUB. If needed, reach out to the support available at the university and contact your paper co-ordinator.

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Sitting exams

Shortly before the exam

Try to have a good sleep, eat something nutritious, answer the call of nature, do some quiet breathing and think positively about yourself and your world.

Check you have everything in place to sit your exam in your space:

  • Put an “In Exam” sign on the door
  • Get rid of all distractions (shut the curtains, have a clear desk except for the resources you are allowed, put your phone on flight mode)
  • Have your permitted resources ready and available. If allowed, also have paper and pen ready to draw and make notes as you read the question to help organise your ideas
  • Re-read the instructions for the exam
  • If you need to download your exam or sit your exam online at a specific time, log on to the site at least 10 minutes before the set time to check everything works
  • Close all unnecessary tabs on your internet browser before starting the exam
  • Get your timer sorted with an alarm set to go off 15 minutes before the time is up
  • Have the AskOtago number (0800 80 80 98 or +64 3 479 7000) handy for any computer, internet or exam issues

In the exam

  • To prepare, read the Sitting Exams section in Exams on UNIO101: Getting started at Otago
  • When the exam time starts, check you have access to the exam and everything is working properly. If you need help, call AskOtago (0800 80 80 98 or +64 3 479 7000) as soon as possible (screenshot any technical issues you can as proof) unless your exam coversheet gives you a different contact.
  • Keep an eye on the time and refer to your exam time plan.
  • Check your answers to make sure they all went in and, if you can, make any corrections.
  • Make sure you ‘submit’ or upload your exam with time to spare
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Special Consideration

For internal assessment that replaces a final exam

An application for Special Consideration should be made in writing (e.g. via email) to your paper course co-ordinator, but be addressed to the Head of Department, as soon as you can. In the email, give the nature of the impairment and supply supporting evidence.

Special Consideration in Internal Assessment (PDF)

For timetabled final exams

An application for Special Consideration must be made through your eVision portal no later than five days after the last exam you were impaired for.

Finally, good luck with your studies and your exams. Remember, staff at the University of Otago are here to help you succeed with your studies at this very strange time. Please don’t hesitate to ask for support if you are unsure or need help.

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