Taking Exams Online

Students are used to coming to Accessibility Resources for a more controlled environment to minimize distractions. To create a similar setting, students need to prepare their space before starting an exam online. 


  • Set up your space to minimize distractions. Don’t eat your lunch or have your television on during the exam.
  • Turn off your phone. Put it away during the exam.
  • Put a “do not disturb” or “testing in progress” sign on your door and inform people you live with that you are taking an exam to minimize distractions.
  • You might want to use a distraction blocker if you often get distracted online.
  • Organize your materials before starting the exam.
  • Set up your environment 15 minutes before beginning to make sure you do not have any computer or internet access issues.
  • If fidgets or music or white noise help you, have these items nearby.   
  • For extended time accommodations on exams you should check with your professor the day before to make sure the time is correct. If you are able to see the exam page early, check to make sure the correct time is in place.  Feel free to contact Accessibility Resources if you need support with extended time.

In General

  • Know the rules for your exam, such as if notes or books allowed or if it is monitored remotely by your professor or a computer program? 
  • Know if you can you start the exam any time or if it must be taken at a certain time.
  • If your accommodations allow for breaks during exam, is there a way to pause the exam? 
  • Before starting the exam, note the number of questions on the exam and how much time you have. Set a timer to go off 10 minutes before your time is up to remind yourself
  • Have scrap paper and note the questions you want to revisit. This will be important if you are presented one question at a time.
  • Remember to hit the “SAVE” button after answering each question.
    • This may be automatic, or not available on all exam platforms.
  • If you have questions about the exam for your professor, find out how you are able to reach the professor while the exam is taking place.
  • Find out if the exams will be different from normal. The professor can tell you in what ways the exam will differ from in-person.
  • If you are allowed to use notes or books during an exam be careful not to use up all your time and rely too heavily on these materials.  It is better to put an answer down that you think is correct and then return to that question later if you have time at the end to double check than to spend time searching for each of the answers.
  • Practice good behavioral self-care: get a good night’s sleep, eat properly and hydrate!
  • Breathing exercises will lower blood pressure and calm you:
    • Breathe in for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, breath out (release) for a count of 4, and repeat.

Migraines and Eye strain 

Use of a screen can cause eye strain. If you are prone to migraines or have sensitive eyes, you should take extra steps to adjust your screen to minimize the impact.

  • Your desk setup can trigger a migraine. Make sure your monitor is placed directly in front of your face to reduce neck strain. Your monitor should be 20 to 40 inches away from your face at eye level.
  • Adjust the refresh rate of your monitor to its highest rate. 
  • Adjust the display settings of your computer to help reduce eye strain and fatigue. 
    • Brightness: Adjust the brightness of the display so it feels the same as the brightness of your workstation. As a test, look at the white background of this page. If the screen looks like a light source, the screen is too bright. If it seems dull and gray, it may be too dark.
    • Text size and contrast: Adjust the text size and contrast for comfort. Usually, black print on a white background is the best combination for comfort. Text can be increased in your browser (On Windows, CTRL +, On Mac CMD +)
    • Color temperature: Blue light is associated with eye strain. Changing the color temperature of your display to lower the amount of blue light can increase viewing comfort. Windows 10 has Night Light, and MacOS has Night Shift which reduces blue light on the screen. Also consider using the f.lux plug-in for Windows or Mac.
  • To help prevent fatigue caused by screen time, use the “20-20-20 rule”.
    • Look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds. 



Adapted from:

Shifting to Taking Exams Online by Jessica Holdren and Kathy Duffy, Arcadia University