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5 Tips for Passing Coursera Course Quizzes

As I sat down today to go through a couple of courses I am taking, and take the quizzes associated with that week’s lectures, it occurred to me that I do some things to ensure I get a near-perfect score each time. And so it makes sense to share them with you.

Before I begin though, you most definitely want to stay inside the rules of the Coursera Honor Code you agree to when signing up for each class, and have to acknowledge each time you submit a quiz or an exam. You have to rely on your own work and cannot get another student to help you answer questions.

But the Honor Code allows you to refer to official class materials, and refer to other materials not related to the class. And using these, you can pass any class and sometimes get 100%.

1. Basic Test Skills

quiz-1As some of us found in high school, college and university, being good at taking tests is itself a skill, and one that you can get good at. Regardless of whether you are taking a test online or offline, these are the things you must do to give yourself the best chance at success:

  • Take the test as soon as you can after viewing the lectures
    This uses our short-term memory to remember things that we might not remember a week later
  • Figure out what the test is really asking you
    When reading the question and the possible answers, often you can tell what concept the professor is trying to get you to recall. If the class mentioned Answer A in some context, but never ever mentioned Answer B or C, or those answers are a little bit silly or implausible, that’s a pretty good clue she’s asking you to select A.
  • Give yourself the time and space to take the test
    If you’re trying to cook dinner while the kids are running around making noise, that might not be the best test-taking atmosphere
  • Don’t do it last minute
    I’ve seen so many people complaining on forums that they submitted their answers at 12:00AM on a certain day, and the website refused their submission because the end time was 11:59PM. Why would you risk that? If you’ve only got 15 minutes before the end date of the test, you’re going to be rushed and won’t be able to handle small disturbances like the Internet going down or the website being slow.

That’s just test-taking 101. But the online (and coursera-platform) experience allows some other advantages for test taking, like the following.

2. Have the course videos open on another tab

quiz-2When taking a quiz, I almost always have the course itself open on another tab. If the quiz  is a test of that week’s lectures, then having the source material handy makes the most sense.

The best thing that can happen is a question that relates to a specific video of the week. For instance, in the Introduction to Marketing course, there was a question about product pricing. And when you flip to the class videos, there is a single video that week named “Pricing”. So you know that the answer to the question almost definitely is within that video. So it’s only a matter of hitting play, either watching the video again or trying to find the spot in that video where the specific subject is discussed.

Sometimes it is not so easy, and it is not clear where in that week’s videos the answer is. Then you have to do a bit of hunting.

Another related tip is to take the quiz WHILE you are listening to the lectures for the first time. Some quizzes are directly related to the lectures, and ask questions in the same order as the lesson. Since quizzes are untimed, you can watch each video, and answer the quiz questions relating to that video before moving on to the next one. Not many classes are good for that, but some are.

If you still can’t find it, perhaps you need to rely on this next tip.

3. Take the quiz multiple times

quiz-3I am not sure how many people rely on this, but I sometimes do. Most courses allow multiple attempts at tests (except the final exam). So what that allows you to do is essentially guess at a couple of answers you’re not sure of, view the graded results after submitting, and take the exact same test again. You can change your wrong answers the second time (or third or fourth) and get a better score. There is no penalty for taking the tests multiple times.

Some courses expect this, and so when you take the test again, you’ll get a selection of different questions. This makes it hard to rely on the answers of attempt one to improve attempt two. But this is actually a lot more work for the professor, so I don’t often see this done.

Some courses allow an almost unlimited number of quiz attempts. For instance, Computational Investing I allowed 100 attempts per quiz. Hopefully nobody used all 100, but with that kind of setting, the professor wants you to get the best score possible and so taking the test 5 times to get 100% is certainly allowed.

Other courses, like Creative, Serious and Playful Science of Android Apps, allow only 3 attempts per quiz. Still, the initial score you get does not have to be the final score. Your third attempt at the test should be pretty close to perfect.

Still, that can take a lot of time. And unless you’re paying for a certificate, the score on quizzes doesn’t really matter as long as you pass. As long as you pass. What else can you do besides taking the quiz 50 times?

4. Forums and fellow classmates

quiz-4Now we’re starting to get outside the quiz itself and the video lectures, and into the class forums. Class forums don’t allow the discussion of quizzes for the most part. Except occasionally you will see people complaining about a question and the accepted answer being wrong. The most complaining I ever saw was on Professor Kaul’s amazing Introduction to Finance class (which I loved because it was so hard yet so good), where the answers were quite precise (that is, you had to calculate a big number on your own and paste it into a text field), and so easy to get wrong. The test interface did not give the correct answer. So people would complain about being wrong with that.

But what I am talking about, is searching the class forums for previous discussions on the topic (i.e. relating to questions about the lecture itself). So let’s say the question was about calculating standard deviation. Chances are good there was a thread about standard deviation where other classmates were discussing the topic and explaining to each other. That’s a good way to learn how to calculate it yourself in order to answer the test question in front of you.

5. Google-Fu

quiz-5Finally, desperation. You’re looking at a quiz question that you can’t find mentioned in the lecture videos, is not multiple choice so taking the test multiple times won’t help, and you can’t find mentioned in the videos. So what do you do?

Google it. Now I am not a huge fan of this, because trying to find immediately useful information out in the vast sea of 100’s of billions of web pages is often an exercise in frustration. If you’re taking a programming class, you might find the official documentation to be helpful, or a question on Stack Overflow. But in general, trying to find out what would likely happen when sales taxes are added to the price of carrots (as in the course on Obesity Economics I took), Google is not going to be super helpful. It really is a question of luck and the type of material you’re studying.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment below with your own best tips for passing online quizzes.

Icons from The Noun Project, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License, or Public Domain:
– Quiz by SuperAtic LABS
– Tab by Laurent Canivet
– Loop by useiconic.com

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  1. Dear writer,

    I am taking the Introduction to Marketing course at the moment and the exam is due in two weeks but these two weeks are potentially going to be the most hectic weeks of the year (Sod’s Law :p)..

    The exam is untimed and I was wondering if there would be an option to attempt questions I know and save the answers? So finish attempting the exam over a few days?

    Your response will be extremely appreciated.

    Thank you.
    Kind Regards

    • Also, is it possible to attempt it without an internet connection, since I will be flying a lot during this time. I have all the videos and other materials saved on my computer.

      Sorry about my paranoid questions, this is my first Coursera experience and I don’t want to mess up the final examination of this super interesting course 🙂

      Thanks a lot

      • Hi Kalyani,

        You bring up a very important tip as well – the ability to save a test in progress and come back to it later. Thanks for reminding me about that.

        Yes, you should be able to save a quiz or exam in progress and come back to it later to finish it. As long as you submit it before the deadline, you can do that.

        Most of the Coursera Final exams that I have seen have only allowed one submission. So think carefully before hitting the final submit.

        Good luck!
        Scott @ coursemania

        • Thanks a lot for your prompt response Scott. It is a HUGE tip for me at this stage.

          I researched a lot online didnt find anything specifically regarding saving answers. I was scared of even opening up the exam lest it would force me to submit after answering just 10 questions..

          Thanks again! Keep up the great work on learning for the sake of learning.


  2. That was very valuable because I read it before appearing for the quiz on coursera for the first time.
    Thank you so much.
    Keep up the noble work 😀

  3. Hi
    This is extremely helpful.
    I have a different question – Can you recommend any popular law course for a law graduate?


  4. Hi,
    Is the final exam exam of the ‘Power of macroeconomics ” timed or is it the same as the other quizzes?

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