3 online and take-home exam myths debunked

April 7, 2020 | Campus Life
Online and take-home exams sound like a student’s dream come true. Write it wherever you want? Yes! Have access to all of your notes and resources? Yes!

While there are a lot of great things about writing an exam online, there are also a lot of misconceptions out there. Here Dr. Paul Sopcak, MacEwan’s academic integrity coordinator who also teaches English and philosophy, debunks some of the most common myths.

Myth #1: Online exams are easy

If you thought this was going to be an “easy A,” think again. Paul says that well-designed online exams and final assessments don’t simply ask you to retrieve information – they’re targeted at a higher level of thinking. “If anything, they are less about recalling facts and more about applying knowledge and concepts,” he says. That means thinking deeply and applying the knowledge you have – not simply regurgitating it.

Myth #2: You don’t really need to study

Thinking it’s not really worth studying for an online exam is a major mistake.

“Studying for an online exam is important, it’s just a different kind of studying with a different focus,” says Paul. “You need to make sure the way you’re studying matches the exam.”

If your exam is going to ask you to apply concepts, then your studying should involve getting really comfortable with those concepts. If you are going to need to look through your material during the exam, then your study time should involve making sure you have everything well organized and you know how to find information quickly.

Learn as much as you can in about the format your exam will take in advance, and then tailor the way you study to match what you need to be able to do.

Myth #3: Everyone is just going to cheat anyway

They’re really not, says Paul. Research shows that well-designed online classrooms have the same number – or fewer – academic misconduct issues than face-to-face classes.

There are lots of tools your profs use to address potential academic integrity issues: asking questions where you have to apply knowledge, pulling from large pools of questions, randomizing the selection and order in which questions are presented, setting time limits, showing single questions at a time, and more.

Don’t forget that the same academic integrity rules apply whether you’re writing an exam in person or online. For example, you’ll need to know whether you can take examples from the textbook, if answers have a word limit, whether you need to provide proper citations and references, if you can talk with others about the questions, and if you can work on the questions in a group. If you’re unclear on any of those things, make sure to ask your prof. “It’s not okay to turn your exam into a family affair, for example, unless you’re given explicit permission to do so,” says Paul.

The bottom line on writing exams in stressful times: Make good choices

If you’re struggling and need support, Paul encourages you to reach out to one of your many MacEwan University resources – your profs, the Academic Integrity Office, Writing and Learning Services or Wellness and Psychological Services. And if you’re not sure exactly what kind of help you need, start with the Student Affairs main office.

“It’s a difficult time and we know that students are under a lot of stress,” says Paul. “But don’t panic – you’re not alone.”

He also offers a word of warning about non-MacEwan resources, including targeted posts and emails from the contract cheating industry, which looks to capitalize on students who are feeling vulnerable. “They position themselves as helpful and caring, but they are often aggressive and predatory – and they don’t actually care about you or your learning,” says Paul.

If you’re feeling pressured or stressed, take a minute to take stock. “Remember that exams are about learning,” says Paul. “Focus on why you’re taking this exam. Think about your values and let them guide you.”

You’ve got this.


It’s normal to feel overwhelmed right now – but mental health help is available.

Wellness and Psychological Services on ways to manage your mental health right now, and how to access their services from home.

7 learning tips from profs who’ve been teaching online for decades

Three profs share their best advice for making the most of an online learning experience.


Get MacEwan University news delivered to your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter