Computer ScreenGuide to Online Assessment

Are you working towards online assessments? Taking your exams or other kinds of assessments online poses a number of challenges, but it also has some important advantages. Rather than worrying about how to get to the exam venue and having all the right things with you, you can simply find a comfortable space that works well for you, settle down and get the most out of yourself. The emphasis also shifts away from retention of basic facts and information to a more realistic test of how you access and apply your learning, often with less intense time constraints. Foregrounding these practical skills can help take away some of the artificial pressure of exams and allow you to demonstrate your grasp of the subject area. 

Please explore the concertina tabs below for information, ideas and strategies that you can apply to the range of online assessments that you might encounter on your course. 

For information on digital tools for remote assessment visit Digital Learning Advice for Students

For information on support services available visit University of Sheffield Support for Students

Open-Book Exams

An open-book exam provides an opportunity for you to make use of supporting materials such as lecture notes, books and other resources. As you can access these additional resources during the exam, these forms of assessment test how you demonstrate higher-order thinking; applying, analysing, evaluating and creating rather than testing your ability to recall or remember specific information. See the Bloom Model of Learning hierarchies below:

Bloom's Taxonomy

For more information on this model and how to apply it to your exams, visit Study Skills Online: Critical Thinking here.

Preparing for Open-Book Exams

There are a number of things to consider when preparing for open books exams:

  • Approach your revision as you would for any other exam or assessment
  • Don’t wait until the time the assessment starts before looking through your lecture notes and other revision material
  • It is helpful to treat your notes and textbooks as a back-up that you may need to refer to for accuracy
  • If you revise the material beforehand, as you would normally, then most of the time in the exam can be spent as you would expect in a closed book exam - on carefully reading each question and then planning and writing your answers
  • Focus on organising your notes and other resources so that you can access them quickly during the exam period
  • Organise your materials around specific themes and possible questions. As these exams often take place in a time limited format you want to minimise the time you take searching for information

Using Past Papers

The best way to improve your time management for an open book exam is to practise using past papers or questions you set yourself:

  • Gather all the notes and resources relating to your exam, and find a place where you can work without interruption
  • Set a timer for the same length as your final exam will be - you don’t have to stick to this strictly, but it can help to get a feel for how long you will have
  • After you finish your practise, read through your answers and crosscheck them with your notes
  • Make a list of topics that you spent a lot of time looking in your notes for - these are ones you may wish to revise more, and to bookmark clearly so that you can find them quickly next time

Open-Book Exam Format

Open book exams can be in a range of different formats:

  • Essay-Based Exams: If your exam is made up of essay questions, spend a few minutes planning each one before you start to write. You can find guidance on how to structure an essay via Study Skills Online here, which will help to make sure you include enough critical analysis.
  • Multiple-Choice or Short-Answer Exams: there are a few different strategies you can use, which you can find via Study Skills Online here

Top Tips for Open-Book Exams

  • Don’t just copy from your lecture slides and textbooks - open book exams are more focused on the connections between ideas and proof that you understand the topic using critical analysis
  • Find a suitable exam environment in which to work (eliminate distractions from children, pets, visitors, TV)
  • Place a “do not disturb” or “testing in progress” sign on your door of the room where you are taking the test
  • Inform family members who might also be home that you will be taking an exam for a specific span of time to minimise interruptions
  • Turn off phones. If you have a landline, set the ringer to silent or low
  • Test the hardware, to make sure batteries are charged, no technical faults etc.
  • Have your login/password to hand
  • Reduce the chances of having to stop mid-way - e.g. eat/visit the toilet in advance
  • Have the test instructions to hand, in the event something goes wrong

At least 15 minutes before the exam, set up your environment to make sure you do not have any computer or internet access issues

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Multiple Choice Questions

These can take different formats so make sure you know which one your exam will follow and find out if it involves negative marking (sometimes known as the 'guessing correction'). If this is the case, make sure you understand whether it is worth making an informed guess. As with any other exam, read the instructions carefully before you begin and identify how long you can spend on each question or section. It is often a useful strategy to think of the answer before looking at the options, but be sure to read all the choices carefully before making a decision. The following are some overall tips that might come in helpful:

  • Look over the whole paper to get an overview of where the marks are allocated
  • Don’t get too bogged down on one question – remember to keep an eye on the clock
  • Answer the easy (or easier) questions first
  • Understand the ‘guessing correction’ and act accordingly
  • Take care not to miss any questions out – every mark counts!

The three strategies below might help you in your approach to multiple choice exams:

System of Rounds1. System of Rounds

This strategy will help you to get the most out of yourself in an exam with time pressure. It will allow you to target the quickest and easiest marks first so that you know how much time you have left to tackle the harder questions later on.

  • Round 1: answer the 'easy' or easier questions
  • Round 2: answer the harder questions
  • Round 3: answer the remaining (hardest) questions

Five Steps2. Five Steps

This strategy helps you to avoid being confused or distracted by incorrect options and to make positive and confident choices:

  • Step 1: cover up the answers and read the stem - it might help to underline negatives or absolutes (e.g. never, none, unless, not)
  • Step 2: can you anticipate or make a ball-park guess at the correct answer?
  • Step 3: uncover the answers – do any of them correspond to your anticipated answer?
  • Step 4: read ALL the answers carefully, even if your first choice seems obvious
  • Step 5: choose your answer.

Best Guess3. First Impressions

Your first impression is often your best friend for a few important reasons: Your ‘guesstimate’ will help you to eliminate obviously incorrect answers Examiners are not trying to trick you – if it seems right then it probably is! IF you are well prepared AND have read the question and possible answers carefully then your first impression is probably right As a general rule of thumb, only go back to change an answer if you have a very good reason to do so!  

IMPORTANT: always follow department guidelines to ensure that your work is in line with expectations from your tutors.

Written Assignments

You may find that you have a substantial amount of written work to prepare as part of your assessment. The following points might be helpful as ways to plan and organise this work over the next few months:

  • Plan ahead: if you have multiple deadlines for assessed work, make sure you have a good plan for how to approach them.
  • Focus on one assignment at a time and use your diary or calendar to set your own mini-deadlines or milestones along the way to keep on track.
  • Break down the task: if you are working towards larger-scale pieces of work, set yourself goals along the way, for example to finish a section or chapter by the end of a week. You might consider setting daily word count challenges to keep making incremental progress, but bear in mind that some days will be easier than others!
  • Focus on the task, then relax! Have a go at structuring your writing time to avoid distractions. Switch off your phone, avoid the internet and write for, say, 25 minutes, then reward yourself with five minutes off for a cup of tea. Repeat this cycle a few times to make focused progress on your work. This technique is known as the Pomodoro Technique - more information and a virtual study buddy are available here
  • Proofread your work, preferably after sleeping on it for a day or two to give yourself some critical distance from the text. Proofreading is a vital final step of the writing process and picking up on those issues, typos and mistakes can make a huge difference to the overall quality of your work

IMPORTANT: always follow department guidelines to ensure that your work is in line with expectations from your tutors.

Audio-Visual Assignments

If you are asked to produce and submit a recorded presentation for assessment, apply the same principles as you would for a presentation delivered face-to-face:

Planning your presentation

You should consider three things throughout this process: topic, time limit, and audience.

  • Your topic - have a clear idea of the message you are trying to convey, it is easy to go off on a tangent, and lose the clarity of your presentation
  • Your time limit - If you are asked to deliver a short presentation, keep this in mind as you do your background research to avoid doing unnecessary amounts of reading. You only have a certain amount of time you can spend on your preparation, make sure you use your time wisely.
  • Your audience is key to how you deliver your presentation. You need to consider what they already know, what they need to know, and the type of language that is appropriate for your delivery.

Presentation Structure

Your presentation should follow a very simple structure of reinforcement:

  1. Tell your audience what you are going to
  2. Tell them
  3. Then tell them tell them again what you told them

This may sound repetitive, but that’s exactly what you want; to repeat the key points so that they are clear to your audience, and provide a take home message. Having a clear structure not only helps your audience to follow your presentation, but helps you to keep track of what it is you are trying to explain.


Allow time to practice! Make sure you think about how you are going to deliver your presentation and make it engaging. Make sure you have time to revise and edit your presentation in advance of the submission date and leave enough time to review the final edit too.

Other Things to Consider

  • Review the specific guidance from your department in relation to presentation format, length etc.
  • Check the assessment criteria in your department. It is highly likely they are looking at the content rather than the quality of the production as they will know that everyone will have access to different software and equipment when creating recordings
  • Find a quiet space with minimal background noise to record and test sound / audio quality in advance and take time to practice in advance of making your final recording
  • Resources and support for creating recordings is available from the Digital Learning Team here

If you would like to access additional resources for presentation planning, preparation and delivery the access our presentation skills resources available within Study Skills Online.

IMPORTANT: always follow department guidelines to ensure that your work is in line with expectations from your tutors.

Portfolios and Reflective Accounts

Reflective Accounts

Reflection is just like other kinds of academic writing; you need to use high-quality evidence and data to ensure that your conclusions are valid. However when you are writing reflectively, you are your own data set. Making sure that your experiential data is accurate, honest and authentic is vital to producing a useful reflection that will allow you to gain something from the overall process. The Gibbs Model below captures the key stages usually involved in a full reflective account:

Gibbs' Reflective Learning Cycle

  • Description: Usually kept to the minimum needed to allow the reader to understand the context of the experience
  • Feelings: the really important bit! Be honest and capture something authentic about the experience. How did you react? how did you feel?
  • Evaluation: what did you think about this? Was it a positive experience? Or were there things that went less well than you hoped?
  • Analysis: can you place the experience into a wider context? Have you had comparable experiences before? Is there evidence or literature that backs up your experience, or challenges it?
  • Conclusion: so, overall, what can you take away from this? Have you learned anything from the experience?
  • Action Plan: with all this in mind, what will you do differently next time?

Remember: reflection should be cyclical; i.e. it should feed into and inform the next experience, so make sure you complete the cycle by developing a good plan for next time. 


Portfolios provide a way to collect, curate and present evidence and reflection on your learning over a period of time. They can be a valuable way to record and look back on your own progress and to identify skills that you have developed along the way. The following tips might help you to produce a successful portfolio:

  • Is your evidence sufficient? Have you included enough evidence to fulfil the requirements of the portfolio? Often a portfolio will be a chance to present evidence from a range of different learning experiences, so be sure to draw on multiple examples if possible.
  • Is your evidence authentic? A portfolio is a personal artefact, so try to be honest and capture your feelings and emotions as well as the bare facts. If you are keeping a learning log as part of your portfolio, try to record something about how the experiences recorded made you feel at the time. This will provide valuable evidence to look back on later.
  • Is your evidence reliable? Have you included proof or evidence of engagement with required learning activities? This will help to ensure that your portfolio is a genuine and accurate record of achievement over a period of your course.

IMPORTANT: always follow department guidelines to ensure that your work is in line with expectations from your tutors.

Posters and Infographics

Poster Presentations

A poster is a visual representation of your work that is designed to share an overall summary of your project with a viewer. Posters are used widely as a way to disseminate academic research, for example at conferences. The following points will help to make sure your poster is as effective as possible as a vehicle of dissemination:

  • Keep it brief! A poster should include no more than 200-500 words of text. Think of it as a visual representation of your abstract; i.e. a top-level summary of your work
  • Break it down: organise your poster into key sections, for example introduction, methodology, findings, discussion, conclusion
  • Plan and design how you will arrange these sections on the poster to make it easy for the reader to follow. You might find it helpful to sketch out your ideas for an overall design on a sheet of paper before you start working on-screen
  • Use visuals: one of the main benefits of a poster is to allow you to make it visually engaging. If you are using data, can you present it in graphical form? Are there aspects of your methodology that could be shown visually, for example as a flow chart? But remember, keep it simple and don’t overdo it!
  • You can find an annotated example poster with guidance and tips via Study Skills Online here.

Representing Data Visually

Key questions to consider when producing graphical representations of your data are as follows:

  • Is the graph I’ve chosen suitable for the data I’m plotting? Perhaps the results may be better demonstrated using a different type of graph
  • Are my plots misleading in any way (by choice of scale)? If quantities are being compared, are they plotted in a way that makes sense?
  • If your graphs use colour coding, consider whether they’re easily differentiated for people with colour-blindness. For example, you may choose to use both symbols and colours, or differentiate line graphs with dashes and dots
  • Is the information easily read from the poster/infographic? Often plots can be too small and things like axis titles and scales can be difficult to read. Consider that the size of any text within a graph should be appropriate for the scale of the poster or infographic


A good infographic uses data or information to tell a story in a visual way that is accessible to a viewer. You might want to consider using infographics to represent the following aspects of your work:

  • Processes (timeline, methodology, etc.)
  • Spatial data (maps, networks, etc.)
  • Hierarchies (layers, dependence)
  • Comparisons (size, strength, etc.)
  • Information/facts (icons, visual cues)
  • Numerical data (charts, graphs, etc.)

For advice on how to produce a good infographic (in infographic form) see What Makes a Good Infographic here. For ideas on how to represent your data, see 33 Ways to Visualise Your Ideas here. Some ideas for software to produce your posters and infographics are as follows:

  • Powerpoint: design posters or print layouts
  • Photoshop: powerful suite of design tools for image manipulation
  • Canva: simple graphics for online content (free version available)
  • Infogram: tool for the creation of simple charts and infographics

IMPORTANT: always follow department guidelines to ensure that your work is in line with expectations from your tutors.

Peer Evaluation

Why is Peer Evaluation important?

You may find that at some point in your university career, you will take part in a group assessment which includes an element of peer evaluation as part of the marking process.

What is peer evaluation and peer assessment?

Peer evaluation means that as part of your work, you will evaluate the contribution of other members of your group. Similarly, those in your group will also evaluate your contribution, and provide feedback on your contributions.

Peer evaluation is a valuable assessment method and will help you to develop and enhance your personal attributes and employability skills as outlined in the Sheffield Graduate Attributes. These skills include your interpersonal skills and working with others. As a student, now is the ideal time to develop these skills.

Your role is not to ‘reward’ or ‘punish’ group members but to offer an outside perspective on peer strengths, roles and dynamics, as well as to reflect collectively on improving group practice.

Participating in peer assessment allows you to use peer feedback to identify areas in your working process that may require further development. Using the feedback received alongside reflective practice can help you learn from the experience to improve or refine the way you work if you are placed in a similar situation.

Increasing your confidence with regards to group work will likely be of benefit throughout your entire career. Being able to identify where you can improve these skills, and how your skills are viewed by others allows you to reflect on your practice and gauge where to improve.

How is peer evaluation undertaken?

Peer evaluation is undertaken using a tool called Buddycheck. When working on the group assignment, you will need to fill in answers to evaluative questions on your peers and your own performance in the group as well as feedback. Individual scores you give to your peers will not be visible to other group members, but you may be asked to provide constructive feedback.

Peer evaluation should be an open and honest process for all, comments should solely reflect the individuals’ contributions to the group work in the assessment you have been asked to evaluate.

Any feedback referring to anything outside of the assessed content area, such as performance or group dynamics in a different assessment will not be accepted. This may lead to the peer marks being amended or rejected by the module leader.

Group work and peer evaluation

There are numerous ways you can contribute during group work, and not all of them are obvious. Peer evaluation will usually include a range of different criteria to assess how effectively you have participated. These might include:

  • Contributions to Teamwork (producing work, contributing to discussions, aiding others)
  • Interacting with Teammates (listening to others in the group, liaising between different group members, encouraging others, being receptive to feedback)
  • Keeping the Team on Track (monitoring group progress, intervening when there are issues, giving constructive feedback)
  • Expectation of Quality (motivating others in the group, investing time and effort into the work, believing in group capability)
  • Knowledge, Skill & Ability (demonstrating and acquiring knowledge / skills / ability, the capability to adopt different roles within the group)

(Adapted from the CATME framework)

Tips for peer evaluation

  • Be honest in your evaluation of yourself and others - this enables everyone to get the most out of the process
  • Use guidance on effective group work and collaboration to understand how to work together as a group - check out our Study Skills online guidance on group work and collaboration
  • Reflect and review - the feedback is there for you to learn from and use to improve your skills
  • Communicate effectively - check our Study Skills Online guidance on communicating effectively online
General Information and Links

Please explore the following resources, or book an appointment to talk to a specialist study skills or maths and stats tutor:

Online Assessment and Unfair Means

Unfair means in the context of online assessment is exactly the same as unfair means on other forms of assessment. It refers to any form of cheating or attempting to gain an unfair advantage in your assessment. This includes:

  • Plagiarism, including copying and pasting or otherwise using the ideas of others and passing them off as your own
  • Buying an essay: commissioning or purchasing part or the whole of an assignment from another student or an ‘essay mill’
  • Collusion: working with someone else on an individual assessment
  • Fabrication: making up and submitting results or findings as part of your work

For more information on Unfair Means, please watch this short video produced by SSiD:

Remember: Always follow your department guidance in relation to unfair means as policies vary across the University.

Explore the tabs below for some study skills techniques to help avoid unfair means:

Plan and Organise Your Notes

Take time to plan and organise your notes:

  • Include reference details wherever possible. This will allow you to more easily identify the source of information during your assessments. This will also help you with time management as you will need to spend less time searching for information
  • Include as much detail as possible in your notes e.g. book or journal title, page number, quotation marks if it is a direct quotation, etc.
  • Apply critical thinking within your reading and note taking as opposed to simply copying information directly from sources. Can you rephrase the source in your own words? How strong and/or reliable is the source?
  • Use reference management software to organise your references. Visit the Library webpages for more information
Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarising

Develop your quoting, paraphrasing and summarising skills to make good use of sources:

  • Summarising: providing a brief overview of the main ideas in one or more sources
  • Paraphrasing: explaining an idea or concept from a source into your own words
  • Direct quoting: using the exact words of the original in quotation marks together with your analysis and/or explanation
  • When summarising, paraphrasing or quoting, you should always include a citation!
  • The aim is to demonstrate that you have not only read, but also understood and interpreted the source(s)!
  • Watch the 301 Paraphrasing and Using Academic Sources workshop recording for more information
Access Resources to Develop Your Skills

Make the most of advice and guidance available including:

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