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Go The Distance

Ever thought about distance learning? Here's a taste of what it is really like – with real students, real tutors and more.

About the programme

BBC Learning English presents a 10-week online series all about how to be a distance learner – this series will break down into five categories (one a day) to give site visitors an idea of what life is like on a distance learning course and the skills/knowledge required to participate successfully on a distance learning course.

Read more about the series on the BBC's web pages , or explore more about distance learning with our free content below, updated weekly.  

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:


How do you prepare for an assessment?

What must you do to complete a successful assessment? Laurence Knell gives us the lowdown...

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Whether you love it or loathe it, assessment is one of those things that anyone studying will have to cope with at some point.   And let’s face it… not many people “love” assessment!

So what are the various forms of assessment?  Depending on your course you might encounter some or all of the following types:

  • A quiz
  • An assignment
  • An exam
  • A demonstration
  • A report
  • A presentation

Apart from these more standard approaches it is also possible that you will be assessed on your level of participation throughout the course.

So how should you prepare for assessment?  On a certain level it depends on the type of assessment and how you will be expected to complete it.  So, for example, preparing for a written exam would be quite different to preparing a research presentation.

Nonetheless, when it comes to assessments of any form there are key things you must always think about.

First, you must be clear on the format of the assessment.  A 30-minute long multiple choice quiz completed online will require a different approach to a formal, written exam completed over three hours at an exam centre.  Multiple choice quizzes can often be much easier for non-native speakers of English as the focus is more on reading and comprehension than on writing and expression while for written exams it is the other way around.  You will also need to prepare differently for each type of assessment, depending on the format.  So, if in doubt ask be sure to ask exactly how you will be assessed.

Second, you must be clear on the criteria of the assessment.  Are you being assessed purely on your knowledge of facts or are you being assessed on your ability to apply theories or frameworks?  Learning facts is actually surprisingly easy, but thinking about how to apply them is much harder and even harder still to discuss and describe in a language other than your own.

Third, where possible you should review previous assessments.  By having past exam papers, for example, you can practice and become comfortable with the language of the questions and instructions, and understand what will be required of you on the day.

Fourth, you must prepare.  As the saying goes, “If you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail”.  In other words, if you do not take the time to get ready for the exam then chances are you will not do as well as you otherwise could have.  In practical terms what this means is that you must do a number of basic things:

  • Revise the course material… and then revise again, and again, and again
  • Use active approaches to revision – reading is ok up to a point, but you should also take thorough notes and ensure to also test yourself with questions or maybe even ask a friend to do so
  • Practice under “exam conditions”.  If you know that you will need to write answers to two questions by hand over the course of an hour, then that is exactly what you should practice.

Last, but not least, enjoy the assessment!  Whether it is an exam, a quiz or a presentation assessments are just a way for you to demonstrate all the knowledge that you have gained during your studies.  If you are relaxed and enjoy the process your brain will function more effectively and it is more likely that you will succeed!

Ultimately, success in assessment of any kind is up to you.  While your teachers can help and guide, unless you put in the hard work yourself chances are you will never succeed.

Good luck, enjoy your studies and have fun with the assessments!

Student interviews

Hear from OU students about their experiences with distance learning assessments.

Meet the OU experts

Head of Department The Faculty of Business & Law, The Open University
Dr Anne WesemannHead of Department, The Faculty of Business & LawVIEW FULL PROFILE
Head of Department The Faculty of Business & Law, The Open University
Dr Anne WesemannHead of Department, The Faculty of Business & Law

Anne is a Lecturer in Law at the Open University Law School, specialising in European Union Law and comparative constitutional law. She holds an undergraduate degree in German law (1. Staatsexamen) and came to the OU from the University of Sussex, where she is about to complete her PhD thesis titled "European citizenship as a constitutional right according to the rulings of   the European Court of Justice". Anne also holds a LLM in European Union law. As module chair for the OU's European Union Law module and Teaching Director she ensures that international students and students new to distance learning are catered for. 

Dr David Hann,  Lecturer in English language studies and applied linguistics
Dr David HannLecturer in English language studies and applied linguisticsVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr David Hann,  Lecturer in English language studies and applied linguistics
Dr David HannLecturer in English language studies and applied linguistics

David is a lecturer in English language and applied linguistics in the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics. Prior to becoming an academic, he was an English language teacher and, for the great majority of that time, he specialised in training non-native executives in business English and communication skills both in the UK and on in-company tailored courses abroad. At the OU, he tutored on a number of English language undergraduate modules for ten years and has been involved in writing and editing distance learning materials for new modules at all undergraduate levels and at postgraduate level. This has included some work in the business English area: writing for a pre-MBA module for global managers, critically reading a pre-undergraduate module on professional communication for business studies and writing materials to support non-native speakers of English studying on an undergraduate IT module. 

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