January 6th, 2014

Practical Tips for Minimizing Cheating During Exams


There is nothing more disheartening and stressful than having to formally accuse a student of cheating on an exam. Was the student looking at his neighbor’s exam or just glancing away from his test for a mental break? Did the student ask someone how to fill out the name portion of the instruction page, or did she obtain an answer to a test question? Did the two students with identical written answers prepare study notes together or cheat off one another while someone was asking the professor a question during the exam?

Since few students would ever admit to cheating, the ensuing administrative process for upholding academic integrity can be equally daunting for both instructors and students. With larger classes, particularly those located in crowded classrooms with tiered-seating, there are ways instructors can plan ahead to help minimize the potential for cheating, as well as behaviors that can be construed as such simply because students are seated near each other.

First, if there are more than 20 students in a class I recommend using more than one version of multiple-choice based exams. I use two versions of an exam for classes that have about 40 students and three versions for classes that have 60 or 80 students. You can keep the basic structure of the exam the same (e.g., perhaps questions from particular chapters are grouped together), just move the first two pages to the end of the exam or use a similar strategy to ensure the response columns will not appear identical for both versions for anyone scanning their classmates’ exams for answers.

In addition to using multiple versions, I include a blank sheet of paper with the test booklet and instruct students to keep their answers covered at all times. For example, once students have written out a couple of short answers, they can use the blank sheet to cover their responses. Similarly, after the first 10 questions are completed on an answer sheet for a multiple choice exam, that column of answers can be covered while the student fills in responses for the next set of questions. This is noted in class prior to the exam, in the test booklet instructions, and I even walk around the room covering exam answers that are positioned in a way that others could view them (since students are often not even aware that their answers are exposed). It is also a good idea to request that students not circle correct answers in the test booklet or write answers in them since students can exchange test booklets when an instructor’s attention is directed elsewhere.

While I personally do not advocate that we mandate how students should dress, some university and department policies forbid the wearing of hats during exams. I suggest instead that you explain to students it is important that their hats don’t cover their faces in a way that prevents an instructor from seeing their eyes during the exam. Simply asking students to turn their hats around or keep the rim up high will circumvent this issue.

Lastly, I bring an exam proctor with me to each exam. I enlist a former student to act as a room monitor during exams for several practical reasons. First, the student (who can be paid out of your pocket or who might be a volunteer) benefits from the opportunity to serve as a “teaching assistant” and this valuable experience can be included on a resume. You benefit because you have an extra set of eyes scanning the class while you answer any individual questions students might have during exams or when you become otherwise occupied as students finish exams early and start to hand them in. Both of these common exam situations provide students with brief opportunities to glance at someone else’s answers. Furthermore, if a student needs to leave the room for some reason (e.g., feels ill suddenly) or needs to speak with you in private, you can accompany him or her into the hallway without having to leave the classroom unattended. With a little prior planning, I have successfully implemented these strategies into my courses and have enjoyed many years of academic honesty from students in exam environments.

Dr. Diane G. Symbaluk is an associate professor of sociology and chair of the Distinguished Teaching Awards Committee at MacEwan University (Edmonton, Alberta).

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