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Revising for 24 Hour Take Home Exams

Revising for 24 Hour Take Home Exams

Take home, time limited exams need a different approach to traditional ones. You don’t need to memorise lots of information, but there’s lots you can do to prepare effectively.

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As with any exam, you will do your best in a 24 hour take home exam if you revise for it. In the exam, you will have access to all the lecture notes, textbooks and other books, journal articles and websites which you have available to you.

However, if you don't prepare for the exam in advance, you will be trying to research a topic, remember relevant knowledge, understand it, locate it and select it, all in addition to actually answering the question. This will mean working much harder over the 24 hour period of the exam and potentially not doing as well, as you may become overwhelmed and overtired.

So what can you do before the exam to help prepare?

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Organising your materials

  • Check the module handbook for the learning outcomes of the module, and lecture notes to get a sense of what the exam covers. In an open book exam with all the paper and digital resources at your disposal, including the whole internet, it might be very easy to lose focus, cover too much and go off at tangents. Use the learning outcomes, lecture notes and any past papers to get a sense of the boundaries of what the exam might cover.
  • As with any exam, start to prioritise what you revise. Compare lecture handouts and your own notes, module handbook, past papers, any textbooks and any hints your lecturers have given you to see what the main areas might be. What are the central 'need to know' facts, theories or concepts? Which are useful examples, case studies or details?
  • Looking at the teaching materials you have, including any past or practice papers you've been given, think about what you would test, if it was you setting the exam. Remember you're not just testing for facts and recall, but higher order thinking. Which topics, concepts or theories would you want to test if you were assessing this module?
  • Start to extend your reading. One difference between a take home paper and a traditional exam is that you are able to access sources. You will therefore be expected to make good use of the materials you have available, going beyond what was covered in lectures and prescribed reading in textbooks etc and above what you could be expected to memorise for a traditional exam. What sources could you draw in, and do you have them available to you? Start to locate, bookmark or download potentially useful sources and ask the library if you can't get hold of anything you need. You might, for example, start to collect examples, case studies, evidence etc.
  • When looking at the materials you have available, start to sort them into "things to learn so I don't have to spend time looking them up in the exam" (e.g. key concepts or facts) and "things to look up in the exam if I need them so I don't need to memorise them" (ie useful examples or details).
  • Develop a system for organizing your materials so you can find what you need on the day of the exam. You might write a brief summary for each resource of the useful things it contains, or begin to tag them with different headings or other coding such as colour so you know where everything is.  
  • If you're not sure if something will be useful or not, keep a brief note of search terms you've used and where you found useful information, so you can repeat the search if you need to during the exam.


  • One of the main aspects to focus on in revision is your understanding of the material – you don't want to be figuring things out on the day of the exam. To make sure you really understand the key ideas you're learning, you could try the following:
    • Explain it back to yourself in your own words. Summarising what you've just read, perhaps after each paragraph or at the end of a chapter, is the best way to read actively and ensure you understand the content, or identify where you need to do more work on it.
    • Compare two or more different accounts of it, perhaps a lecture slide and a textbook. Pick out where they are similar and different.
    • Represent it in a different format – turn it into a diagram, mindmap, bullet point list, paragraph of text, speak it aloud, etc
    • Apply it to a new problem, case study, scenario etc that you encounter in your reading and see how it works in practice
    • Combine or compare it with other key ideas and link it to what you already know– how do they relate to one another?
    • List any questions you still have, or areas you're uncertain of, and research those – either through going through teaching materials, reading around or asking other coursemates or your lecturers.
  • Memorizing knowledge (information, facts etc) is usually more important in a traditional exam, whereas in an open book exam, you can look things up. However, there may be some core knowledge that it might be helpful to memorise, to save time. You can improve your memory in the following ways:
    • Test yourself. Practicing recall is the best way to learn something. Don't worry if you don't get it right at first; what matters is actively prompting the brain to recall a fact.
    • Revisit material you need to learn over time, and space the intervals out further apart each time. Test yourself again an hour later, that afternoon, the next day, in two days, in a week…
  • Rehearsing the exam is a really good way to prepare. You won't know the exact questions until the day of the exam, but you will have a good idea of the topics they might cover and the kinds of question which might be asked. You might have access to past papers or practice papers which are similar in format. If not, you could try making up your own questions, or swapping them with coursemates – this gets you into the mindset of the examiner (you never know, you might be thinking along the same lines) and gives you something to practise with.
  • Look at the word count given if relevant, and also the time you're expected to be working on the exam for, on the day. Remember that this isn't coursework and don't go overboard when rehearsing for the exam. You could practise writing answers in the time you'd normally have for a traditional exam, and get a feel for how much it is and how long it takes.
  • Practise brainstorming an answer, identifying the problem you're solving, focusing on the higher order thinking required and being selective and critical about the information or approaches you bring in.
  • For exams which are more open book, rehearse assembling your materials for an answer to a particular question, to familiarize yourself with what you've got and any gaps. This will also help you stay focused on the day and not disappear down rabbit holes following tangents you don't need, under pressure.
  • Don't try and prepare model answers in advance – you need to precisely answer the question set, and you don't know what it will be, so you need to practise keeping your thinking flexible and responsive, rather than pre-preparing a 'one size fits all' answer.
  • Rehearsing for a take home paper will also hopefully reassure you – this may be a new format of assessment for you, and giving it a trial run might help it feel less unfamiliar – and remind you that some aspects are the same as a normal assessment.