How to Use Online Learning as Part of Your Test Prep

03/17/2015 04:32 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2015

In recent years, online learning has become an increasingly popular option for many students. Because online learning shatters the traditional borders of education, students can immediately access many benefits that were previously unavailable to them. Resources like MOOCs, OCW, and OERs can help with classes, employment skills, and even test prep. If you'd like to strengthen your test prep with these tools, here is everything you need to know:

What are MOOCs, OCW, and OERs?
The term "online learning" is loosely defined, partially because many of its components are still relatively new. However, there are several nuances worth noting. For instance, you may encounter Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs), which are like traditional classes with taped lectures, individual assignments, and group projects. You might also see OpenCourseWare (OCW) and Open Educational Resources (OERs), which are much broader, less defined online resources that could include readings, video explanations, practice questions, etc.

Students studying for tests like the ACT and GRE are more likely to draw from OCW and OERs, but MOOCs can also be useful. For example, students with large gaps in their content knowledge may benefit from completing a MOOC in a subject like algebra or writing.

Where should I look for online learning tools?
The best place to begin is generally the exam's official website. For instance, if you're preparing for the SAT, start with the College Board's online SAT information. Many test creators offer practice exams and sample questions that you can complete online, and they may even explain why your wrong answers are incorrect. This is a great OER for all test-takers.

What other resources exist?
Once you have a strong understanding of the content on your exam and the strategies you will use, you can focus on exploring the particulars of your test. Imagine that you plan to sit for the GMAT - what question types will you face? Will the problems rely on tricky wording? Do you need to memorize any math formulas? If you struggle with the Integrated Reasoning section, a brief video lecture that summarizes graph interpretation might be just the tool you need.

One of the best aspects of open online content is that it is often highly organized and tagged down to the concepts being tested, which can allow you to take a structured approach to your test prep. MOOC databases like Coursera and EdX allow you to search for topics like "data analysis" or "grammar," while practice test databases let you hone your skills in very specific areas.

Are there any other advantages to MOOCs, OCW, and OERs?
Online learning resources can also help you research your prospective schools. As you browse websites like Coursera or EdX, note whether your potential schools offer any classes in your field of interest. This is a great way to gauge the academics at a given college or university.

In fact, you may even be able to write an admissions essay or a personal statement that describes the MOOCs you've taken with professors at that school. Not many students can say the same, which can ultimately help your application shine.