How to Limit Cheating on Online Examinations

Online Exams

No matter how many measures are put in place to eliminate academic dishonesty, the sad truth is that at least 1 student will always be willing to bend the rules. Cheating can come in the form of plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, or students looking things up while taking the exam [1]; these problem-areas are magnified with online quizzes and examinations.

Not all online students behave with academic integrity and those who do can even be put to the test if they haven't studied enough or not properly understand the course material and the online courses per se.

Tips to avoid cheating in online education

Below are some of the measures higher education instructors may take to prevent cheaters in their online classes.

1. Increase student awareness on academic dishonesty

For starters, the following guideline will ensure students are aware of what is considered academic dishonesty and the consequences for it.

Present academic honesty statements for every assessment

Define what cheating looks like, students often engage in academic misconduct because they do not know what constitutes cheating [2].

  • Provide students with a clear definition of cheating and a list of unacceptable behaviors. Be explicit with the types of behaviour that constitute an academic offence
  • Briefly describe how the assignment or test should be taken or completed. By making expectations clear, it will leave little grey area for when a student is considered to be "cheating" and when they are not.
  • Convey the importance of academic integrity to students by incorporating an ‘Academic Honesty’ policy into the Course Syllabus.
  • Include the repercussions for academic dishonesty based on university policies and make them clear and readily available for students to see

2. Use these 8 online exam control procedures

According to Cluskey Jr. et al [3], there are 8 Online Exam Control Procedures (OECPS) that can be put into place to thwart cheating in online exams. Let’s take a look at them further:

  1. Offer the exam at one set time - this way, students will not be able to collaborate and sequentially take the exam.
  2. Allow the exam to be accessible (open) for a very brief period of time (15min), this way, students will have a very small window of time for one student to finish the exam and then coach other students.
  3. The sequence of exam questions should be randomized to make collaboration more difficult.
  4. Present questions one at a time, this way students will have to work on one question until it is completed without being able to skip and come back to it.
  5. Design the online exam to take only the limited amount of time allowed for it. This way, "A" and "B" students will be able to finish the exam with a few minutes to spare, and "C" and "D" students may not complete the exam at all. This way, even if students use outside materials (something that is difficult to prevent in online exams), then students will not be able to complete the whole examination if they try to learn the theory or how to solve numerical problems during the exam, they will not be able to finish the exam.
  6. Students can only access the exam one time - this is something most online learning systems already incorporate. The student will only be able to reset the exam and retake it if after an analysis occurs it is found that the problem was not the student's fault.
  7. Require students to use a lockdown browser to access the online exam. These may create a more stable connection that isn't as likely to freeze or lock students out when they submit their exam, and may also make them unable to exit/return, cut/paste, or electronically manipulate the system.
  8. Change at least 1/3 of multiple choice or objective questions every term on each exam. This reduces the value of previous test banks that give some students who have access an unfair advantage.

3. Alternative assessment strategies to curb student cheating

During the sudden transition to online learning as a result of COVID, many professors began scrambling to figure out how to conduct their planned final examinations online. As we can see in the OECPS, there is a lot to consider in exam development and so some professors have opted to avoid that hassle entirely.

By designing take-home assignments that encourage students to think critically about class material and using higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) like creating, evaluating, and analyzing, students learn to be resourceful and are more engaged with the material. Using Kritik, you can also time each phase to only be a certain length which takes care of OECPS 1, 2, and 5, and then in the later phases, students will evaluate each other's work, using another one of the HOTS, which increases their understanding of the material while simultaneously decreasing instructor time spent grading. Dr. Nina Palmo at the University of Texas used Kritik to replace her final exam with Kritik activities.

4. Assignments and assessments for online students

Students cheat in face-to-face, physical classroom, how much more in online classes? The online environment in higher education seems to aggravate student cheating. For this, instructors need to align their test questions in assignments and assessment activities to this online learning experience. Instructors are encouraged to provide students with lower-stake supported opportunities. This helps develop and practice students’ skills, critical thinking, knowledge, and ability in their online courses.

Try to replace exams in courses with low-stakes quizzes – a lot of them which are worth cheating. Digital learning allows students to be open book to many tools giving them access to large question banks. This makes technology, especially mobile devices, a foe that turns students into cheaters.

5. Foster community building

It is significant in an online environment to establish a sense of belongingness among the students. This will make them feel part of the learning management system in higher education. Their learning experience will not just merely about requirements and rules associated with academic dishonesty. It is also about the online course and assignments.

Student cheating may be obvious in remote learning, yet it can be prevented with some viable measures presented above.

Catherine Rodin
Education Researcher