As more and more university midterms and final exams are being proctored online—a phenomenon that was growing steadily before the coronavirus hit, and then exponentially in its wake—faculty and campus administrators have had to pay more attention to academic integrity. Specifically, how to prevent cheating on online exams.

This blog examines:

  • Four ways that online proctoring systems can prevent cheating during online tests 
  • Steps that instructors can take to reduce cheating in advance 
  • Common reasons that students cheat

Four ways to prevent cheating on online exams using online proctoring

Here are four key ways online proctoring software can help keep students from sacrificing their own personal integrity. 

Combining AI and Human Intervention

Once the web proctored exam begins, no human will disturb the student unless our AI software detects potential misconduct. At that point, the system automatically notifies one of our certified live proctors, who can then intervene by communicating with the student via chatbox and get them back on the honest track.

Neutralizing Question Banks

Honorlock’s proprietary Search & Destroy™ software scans the internet for illicit websites that post instructors’ exam questions and files copyright takedown orders when it finds them. The object is to remove your questions from the web before the test takes place.

Detecting Secondary Smartphones, Tablets, and Laptops

For those test banks that pop-up quickly or don’t comply with the takedown notice, Honorlock’s patented technology detects secondary devices that are being used to look up answers on the web, without any of our software being on the student’s device. Students will know they are running the risk of being caught and having recorded evidence of their violation.

24/7/365 support

As mentioned above, students cheat more often when they are tired. With Honorlock’s always available support, students can take their exam at any time during the window the instructor provides. If they feel most alert and prepared at 2:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m. is when they can take the test, confident that any questions they have about the process can be answered.

What instructors can do to reduce and prevent cheating on online exams before it starts

All those who are instructors now were students at one time and are no strangers to the reasons above. They can sympathize with students who face temptation, even as they do not sympathize with dishonest actions. Below are four ways to reduce and prevent cheating on online exams.

Be explicit about rules for your online exams

Syllabi have gotten longer over the past couple of decades, as instructors try to cover every possible angle to ensure clarity only to discover that some students will still claim ignorance of class policies. That’s why it is crucial to give explicit instructions and be clear in your expectations from the beginning of the term, with a reminder here and there as the weeks go by.

Clarity on instructions for taking online exams

Explain what resources are permissible for students to access during their online proctored exam and which ones are not. Are notes acceptable but not phones? What is the scope of the content students will be expected to be responsible for knowing? Be sure to include these instructions when you set up your proctored exams so Honorlock proctors will know what is allowed and what is not.

Note the honor code

Your institution may have its own honor code. If there is no codified statement supporting academic honesty, you can require your students to provide their own pledge with each assignment. Studies show that the act of writing “I pledge that this is my own work,” or something similar, actually reduces the incidence of cheating.

Remind students of the disciplinary procedure

In many schools, once you have referred a student’s work to the dean’s office or disciplinary committee, the case is out of your hands. Ensure that students know what the consequences of academic dishonesty will be and that the responsibility lies with them to avoid those consequences.

Reasons that students cheat on exams

At Honorlock, we believe that the majority of students approach their exams with integrity and honesty. We feel obliged to support students who desire the opportunity to follow their dreams in a fair and equitable environment. At the same time, a small percentage of students may justify the opportunity to use “unauthorized sources” during an online exam. They may rationalize their behavior based on a perceived prevalence of cheating, a lower likelihood of being caught, a mismatch in the expectations of students and the course instructor, and even normalization by means of social media. (Explore this further in the whitepaper, “Liberate Learning Online by Unwinding the Need and Opportunity to Cheat,” by Ryan P. Mears, Ph.D., University of Florida.)  What’s fueling these students to commit such transgressions?


Students may need a certain GPA to maintain a scholarship or to avoid academic probation. They may fear disappointing their parents. They may have to work full-time and not be able to focus on doing the work that they would otherwise have time to do. Students also cheat more often when they are tired.


Students are conditioned from a young age to believe that we live in a competitive society. Think of how often we hear, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” We at Honorlock prefer “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” but we recognize that the desire to outperform others can motivate those who believe they can’t “win” fairly to employ questionable tactics.

Lack of Preparation

For any number of the reasons described above that put pressure on students, simply not having done the work during the course of the semester (whether because they were doing paid work, focusing on extracurriculars, dealing with family trauma, or suffering from anxiety or depression) can tempt students to cheat.


Surveys tell us that students are more apt to cheat on online proctored exams than those invigilated in a classroom. Some treat it like that proverbial moment when the teacher has to step out of the classroom during a traditional test, and suddenly, it’s a free-for-all. Many who would otherwise be honest find cheating harder to resist when it seems easy to do without getting caught.

A Complete Solution to Prevent Cheating on Online Exams

Students feel more pride in themselves when they earn their grades and believe their peers are doing the same. Faculty and schools protect their good names when they are known for robustly upholding academic integrity. Online proctoring solutions such as Honorlock exist to support everyone in this process.

Want to find out more about how we do it? Request a demo.



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