How to prevent students from cheating in online examinations!

I saw a screenshot of an email sent by a student of The UWI, St. Augustine to Campus their lecturer expressing disappointment in their classmates who were cheating in an exam. The student copied the cheaters in the email so that appropriate actions could be taken. I don’t know how this information got released to the public but it highlighted the nature of Caribbean people. There was much anger targeted towards the leaker with some saying ‘she a informa’ or ‘she chat to much’. Of course assuming the leaker is female. The interesting thing here is that since the leak students are confirming that they are going to cheat if they feel they are unprepared for an exam. Very few are in support of the move the student made. If there is an integrity award, this student deserves it. What would you do? Poll below.

I have been exposed to proctored exams for years and through my involvement I have seen many students attempt to cheat. If students cheat while being watched, why would we assume they won’t when they are not under observation? It is also important to note that during face to face proctored exams, once a student is allowed to leave the room, no other student is allowed in for obvious reasons. Do you remember every time you finish an exam, the first question your friends ask you is “How was it?”. Discussing the exam is the most natural conversation for a student. Let us hold that point.

Online exams at the UWI are administered through the Moodle platform. The platform (web-based application) allows educators to deliver lecture materials and to conduct various assessments. any previously paper-based test given to students can be delivered using the online system. The challenge however, is that these exams are not proctored. Additionally it requires an internet connection which may not be available in rural areas or areas only serviced by Flow. At the end of semester 2, 2019/2020 exams offered were available for an extended period of time online (24-48 hours). Once the exam is started a student will have a limited time to complete the exam. The extended availability of the exam facilitates students who may not have internet at home. The time allows students to get to a location where internet is available or subscribe to an internet service for the duration of the exam.

How students cheat

  1. Some students may complete the exam early, copy the questions and share it with others who would then be able to better prepare for the exam.
  2. Students may have collusion through zoom or WhatsApp groups to sit the exam together.
  3. Students will consult Google or other recourses to assist with completing questions.
  4. Completely plagiarize answers.
  5. Blame connectivity issues to claim more time, or a new test.
  6. Pooled face to face collusion.

How to prevent students from cheating


I will address the proposed solutions respectively in the order they were listed above:

  1. Limit the availability of the exam to the duration of the exam. It will then be the student’s responsibility to get connected prior to the start of the exam so they all sit the exam simultaneously. The duration of the exam also has to be very short.
  2. This is especially effective for MCQs. Shuffle the questions and the order of the answers for all MCQ questions. Also prepare a ‘bank’ of questions of equal value, which the system can randomly assign to the students. That way each student sits a slightly different exam of equal weighting.
  3. Structure questions to require thought and not regurgitation. Thus making is harder to consult sources. One may also consider oral examinations via zoom or Blackboard Collaborate.
  4. There is already a solution for this and students are already being caught. Run assessments through the ‘Turnitin’ software.
  5. It is easy to find out when the student accessed the exam and for what duration. This information is available in the Moodle platform and can be retrieved to inform decisions.
  6. Software can also indicate student location once they submit assessments. An instructor can easily point out the location of a pool of students sitting an exam together. But let us assume all the students in a class are from the same household. With randomized questions and very limited time, collusion would be more detrimental than beneficial to the student.

There is no perfect solution. A cheater, cheats, and there is no going around that. But making it harder to cheat is the best way to discourage the act. The effort made cheating could easily be applied to proper preparation. I remember a student prepared a miniature document where he copied lecture slides to each page (extremely small). It must have taken him hours to make it. Why not use that time to study?

I wonder what I would do, if I were an undergraduate student sitting exams online during Covid-19. Would I cheat?

One thought on “How to prevent students from cheating in online examinations!

  1. Arsenic Arachnid says:

    First of all, scratch exams completely. All they do is induce anxiety, fear and depression. It’s a terrible memory game designed to have to learn the amount of information you’d absorb during a year packed into 1 semester for more than 1 course. NOT ALL STUDENTS ARE EQUAL. Not everyone can remember THAT MUCH for all their courses. As a person in the science field, I believe this time spent binging words for an exam would be much more better spent working on practical assignments. I learn from hands on training. Not from reading and writing. Exams simply fail me as a visual learner (who may also be a slow learner).
    I didn’t ask to be born and I wish I’d die. Dont make it harder for me to exist by forcing me to pay thousands of dollars to play a memory game. Pure ridiculousness. We live in the era of technology. Fundamentals are important to memorize but you can keep your notes ajd manuals on your digital devices.
    I will always see exams as a source of pain and suffering.

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