Q&A with Student Skills Assistants on Take Home Exams

Q&A with Student Skills Assistants on Take Home Exams


The end of year take home exams will differ from the coursework we complete throughout the year. Naturally, our preparation will reflect this and how we prepare will also differ:

In what ways can students prepare themselves for take-home exams in terms of note organisation/collection?

I think the best approach here is to have well-organised and succinct notes on hand during the exam. Here are some tips on creating that set of notes:

Think about what kind of learner you are: 

  • If you’re a visual learner, you might find it helpful to have notes and materials printed in a file/folder. You might want to use colour-coded tabs to organise your notes into different topics within your module.
  • If storing your notes digitally, make sure they are organised in clearly labelled folders, and you know where to find everything. You could also colour-code them digitally. It sounds silly, but make sure they are all backed up!
  • Use questions and guidance from tutorials to guide how you organise your notes by topic.
  • Make sure to keep track of where you are taking your notes from (textbooks or journal articles etc.). This is so you can acknowledge your source and the extra effort you put into finding readings, for example. This way, you’ll end up with a bank of resources and appropriate references that you can use in your exam.

You might also use tutorial materials and/or past exam questions to consider potential essay/problem style questions. It is good practice in preparation for the exam to think about how you would answer past questions, though past questions were in the past and it doesn’t mean they will be on the paper you sit. Just be sure to answer the exact question that appears on the paper and not the one you would have liked to see on the exam, nor the one you prepared based on past exam papers!

How can students prepare themselves to interact with and utilise case law during these exams (as they will not have the time to read through lengthy judgments during this period)?

Preparation is key here!

  • Use your time wisely now to create a ‘bank’ of cases and authorities that you might draw upon in the exam.
  • Use your lecture and tutorial guidance and do some further research now to put all of this together so that you’re not scrambling to find cases or read judgments – you just don’t have time to do that during the exam.
  • Read the judgments now and create your own short summaries which outline the key facts and issues that are relevant to certain topics. But make sure you do read the judgments now and you fully understand them! 
  • You might also want to pull out useful quotations/points from dissenting judgments etc. This will save you time during your exam as you won’t be having to search then. This preparation will leave you with time to think about how to structure your answer and what you want to include in your answer. 
  • You need to be adaptable too, though. You could still decide during the exam that you want to find a quote or case to support a point you are making, but with as much preparation as possible done before the exam, you will feel more equipped and confident during the exam period to find that quote or case. Just make sure you manage your time and get all the required answers written during the time period. 

Given that many students due to COVID are unfamiliar with sitting exams in shorter time periods, what advice in terms of revision can you offer students?

  • Give yourself enough time for preparation – don’t leave it all until the last minute. Remember that the work and reading you do throughout the semester is in preparation for the exam, so make use of your lecture and tutorial materials, particularly your tutorial preparation.
  • You will have slides, reading lists and other materials on module Canvas pages, familiarise yourself with those materials as a starting.
  • Ensure you are familiar with the library and legal databases where you can find journal articles and other readings.

Mental preparation will also be an important part of this process for students – do you have any tips on how students can achieve this?

Prepare like you would for any exam – make sure you’re in the right frame of mind and haven’t burned yourself out by the time the exam comes around.

  • Get enough sleep in the time leading up to the exam, even if you think others around you are doing more by spending late nights in the library. Those late nights are worth nothing if you’re too tired by the time the exam comes around.
  • Preparing for exams can be stressful but do the things you know will help you to manage that stress be that exercise, making time to watch your comfort TV series or films, eating the right foods etc. Don’t let everything else go out the window!
  • Take some breaks during the exam itself – no one expects you to be working on the exam for the entire 7 hours straight.
  • Be clear on what is being asked of you in different exams: check the word limit, how many questions do you need to answer, will there be different sections on the paper etc.
  • The University offers a range of supports so do have a look at the Student Wellbeing page on the Queens website.

The environment in which these exams are completed will also impact upon students’ experience – what environment would you advise for students to create for themselves?

Try to create a calm environment where you can concentrate best, and where you can also take breaks.

  • If you can, try to minimise distractions – like noise or other people. Of course, we acknowledge this may be difficult for some students who have caring responsibilities and that some students will live in accommodation where there are lots of people. 
  • Try to create a setting where you can concentrate – some people need to work in silence, some people like to have quiet music etc. If you’re someone who likes to play some music in the background to help you concentrate, then maybe make a playlist beforehand and have that all prepared as well. Listening to it whilst you prepare for the exam might also help you to get into the right mindset. The more preparation in all senses that you do before the exam the more confident you will feel.
  • Create enough space (if you can) for your materials around you – whether that’s your printed materials or computer/laptop.
  • Try to make sure that you have a stable internet connection, that your notes and materials are backed up and that your laptop is in good order. Taking care of these practical elements before the exam will leave you with less to worry about during the given time.
  • It sounds obvious, but make sure you’re drinking water and eating well throughout the exam. Your brain needs fuel!


The main worry for students this year, particularly those with past experience of the 48 hours take home exams from previous years, is how to adapt to/use time economically during the 7-hour time period:

How much time should students roughly apportion to: the planning process, writing process, research, referencing, read through stage?

This will vary for each student and will depend on the level of preparation a student has done before the exam. 

  • Make sure you take time to understand the question being asked: are there multiple parts to the question? Are you being asked to take a specific approach in the question? If it is a problem question, have you read through the fact pattern several times to identify all the issues? Don’t rush through reading the questions or make the mistake of thinking you know what the question means or asks you to do without fully reading and comprehending it. 
  • Think about the notes you have made during the semester, including your banks of cases or journal articles you have made notes on that might be suitable for the topic being discussed in the question. 
  • Spend time putting your answer together. Don’t just put stuff into an answer because you have some notes on that topic or issue – make sure what you put in your answer is relevant to the question asked. 
  • Make sure you leave enough time at the end of the exam for editing/reading through your answer. Make sure you are happy with what you have written and that your answer is clearly written.

How should students factor in breaks during this 7-hour window?

You will be much more productive if you plan and factor this time in!

It ultimately depends on the student how you do this – some people prefer very short bursts of concentration with short breaks in between and some people prefer longer periods to concentrate with longer breaks in between. When you’re preparing for the exam, try different ways of splitting your time and see what works best for you.

  • Try pomodoro/focus apps! You can usually set them to your own timeframes, but they will help to keep you focused.
  • Make sure you don’t sit scrolling on your breaks – use them to rest, get water, eat something, maybe get outside in the fresh air for 10 minutes if you can.