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How to Detect Cheating On Online Exams

With every technological advance, some students find new and creative ways to cheat. Especially in online classes, where new technology makes it easier than ever. School administrators are aware of the challenge, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with deterring cheating and promoting academic integrity. How can you stop students from cheating? What tools can help you and your faculty find solutions to identify and prevent dishonesty that is just as creative as your students’ attempts to cheat?  

Why Do Students Cheat?

Before you can decide which tools will help you prevent cheating, you need to get to the heart of the matter. Why do students try it in the first place? What motivates them, and how can you address those issues to help keep them honest while promoting academic integrity?

The Need for Good Grades

The impetus for academic dishonesty is most often the need to pass a class, maintain a GPA, or complete a degree. This pressure is amplified when final grades are comprised of the results of just a few high-stakes exams. When online courses follow this format, it becomes even easier for students to cave into the pressure. So, what can you do? For starters, create a framework that uses more low-stakes exams, quizzes, and discussion boards throughout the semester to take away some of the weight. This gives students a chance to better target their studying, and they end up feeling like their efforts pay off.

Rationalizing Away the Guilt

Of course, to be able to cheat, students also need a rationale. In online classes, this often comes down to a sense that they’re unlikely to be caught. Or, perhaps, they think that everyone else is doing it. When it seems easy and worth trying, they do. To help students think more carefully about decisions to cheat, you can make sure they’re aware of your policies. Make sure they know the rules as well as what the consequences will be. When the threat of discipline is clearly understood, students will think twice before they opt to cheat.

It Comes Down to Opportunity

In online courses, the need and rationalization for cheating are pretty similar to what a student might feel in a face-to-face class. The most significant difference in online contexts—and the one that’s most difficult to mitigate—is opportunity. The good news? The right policies and technology go a long way toward protecting test integrity. 

The Pitfalls of Online Exams

Why are online courses more vulnerable? For starters, you can’t supervise students directly. It can be far more challenging to monitor their behavior and restrict what resources they can access. For another, because testing can be staggered and doesn’t all take place at a specific time, it’s easier for students to grab and share test information with classmates. But what can you do about it?

Best Practices to Detect & Prevent Cheating

These are some of our instructors’ favorite tips and tricks to help you protect test content and make sure assessments are actually tracking student learning (and not just cheating skills). 

Test Banks – Step one to prevent students from successfully copying and sharing exam content is to make sure each exam is a little different. By creating a bank of test questions (especially similar questions with slightly different answers), you can throw a wrench in plans to cheat and keep everyone honest.

One Question at a Time – Nothing invites a student to share test content quite like having the whole exam displayed all at once. By only displaying one question at a time, you make sure they can’t grab a screenshot of the entire exam in one fell swoop. Cheating becomes more difficult (and more annoying).

Time Limits – Ultimately, even when a student is motivated to cheat, most of them are focused first on their own success and secondarily on sharing exam content. This is where time limits come in handy—by putting a tight rein on time, you don’t give them the leeway to grab and share information, and you help them prioritize their own grades over dishonesty.

Restricting Information Access – To successfully provide online assessments, you need a proctoring solution that allows you to keep students from searching the web or opening other applications while still providing access to the content they need to complete the test.

Feedback – If you provide students with immediate feedback on multiple-choice questions, you’ll want to ensure that you don’t reprint the test questions and answers. Instead, create feedback that responds to the general ideas and lets students know where they can learn more about missed concepts without sharing specific details. This makes it just a bit harder for students to remember, grab, and share content with peers.

Tools of the Trade

Best practices are an essential place to start, but ultimately you need to back up your efforts with reliable tools and technology for success in online courses. Of course, when it comes to online proctors, there can be an overwhelming number of features and factors to consider. Which should you prioritize? 

Here are a few of our favorites:

Growing Online Programs Through Secure Technology

Ultimately, protecting and promoting academic integrity is the first step toward growing your online programs. You want faculty, students, and their future employers to have confidence that your assessments are an accurate measurement of learning and academic outcomes.

Sign up below for more tips, best practices, and what to avoid to improve your online exams

Recording — One of the first questions to consider is how you’ll monitor students’ behavior during exams. You’ll want to think about integrating video (so you can see if they’re trying to access notes or other resources), audio (so you can tell if they’re talking to someone else in the room), and screen activity (so you can see if they try to access other websites or attempt to copy and paste questions into a document). And, of course, it’s great to use a system that has the student scan the room with their webcam before beginning so the proctor can detect any illicit materials.

Authentication — You want to make sure that the student who’s taking the exam is who they say they are. Proctoring systems that capture a photo of both the student and their ID can help you make sure that students are only getting credit for the work they do themselves.

In-test Protections — Don’t forget all the features that secure your content during the test. For starters, we recommend finding a solution that disables copying, pasting, and printing. You’ll also want to prevent multiple monitors and use a system that blocks access to new browser windows or applications.

Proprietary TechnologyHonorlock can detect cell phones and other devices, like tablets and smart watches, that are used to look up information during an online exam. Search and destroy scans the web for copies of exam questions and files takedown notices so it’s more difficult for students to find illicit copies.

Want to see Honorlock in action? Schedule a demo.