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Tips for Online Tests

Faculty often choose to assess students’ knowledge with online testing. While online tests share many of the academic integrity challenges of testing in the classroom, testing students via web browser offers its own set of opportunities to cheat.

It is important to recognize that no online testing environment is completely secure. Even the best proctors cannot detect all cheating, and wearable technology has advanced to the point where it’s difficult to detect. In some situations, technology that can be used to cheat also serves an assistive purpose. For example, glasses with prescription lenses may also have the ability to take photos, record video, or—in the near future—add a layer of augmented reality to what the wearer sees.

That said, there are steps instructors can take to promote integrity and decrease the incidence of cheating on exams, both in person and online. A carefully designed test and test environment help maintain academic integrity.

Prior to the test

  • Follow the recommendations found in the “Promoting Academic Integrity” page on this website.
  • Communicate openly with your students, as cheating can arise when students feel stressed, desperate, or that their options are limited. Create a course environment in which your students feel comfortable coming to you or your TAs with any questions and concerns about any aspect of the course.

Online Test design

  • Do not use the same test across semesters. Doing so results in much higher levels of academic dishonesty.
  • Consider questions that offer longer-form responses, such as short-answer or essay questions. These questions typically draw on higher-order thinking skills and require students to showcase a greater depth of knowledge.
  • For multi-step problem-solving questions, ask students to show their work.
  • Create several versions of a test. Vary the order of answers for multiple-choice questions, change the order of test questions, or ask different questions altogether.
  • With forced-choice testing (e.g., multiple choice, true/false, matching), create a large pool of test questions, and have Blackboard serve up only a subset of this pool to each student.
  • With online tests, choosing the option “display test all at once” gives the students opportunity to take screen shots of large amounts of material. Having the questions display one at a time is one way to deter this behavior.
  • Timed tests can be stressful for a variety of learners, which can lead students to cheat. Unless your learning outcomes require students to answer questions quickly, consider offering unlimited time on tests.

Test environment

  • To reduce stress, have students test in a familiar environment.
  • To deter cheating, provide students in advance a “prohibited items” list that includes electronics, smart watches, hats, water bottles, and personal belongings. Have students place these things under their desks during the test.
  • Request a proctor to walk the room while you are administering the test. One proctor for every 20-25 students is sufficient.
  • For distance learning situations, require the student to use a virtual proctoring vendor or take the test at an actual testing center. Utilizing a library or school does not always ensure test security or trained proctors.

If you have questions about online testing, including using the campus Testing Center, distance proctoring, or virtual proctoring, contact the Testing Center at (208) 426-2762.

Alternatives to forced-choice testing

As stated above, there is no guaranteed way to prevent cheating on tests—and tests themselves often aren’t the best way to assess students’ achievement of your course’s learning outcomes. If you’re concerned about maintaining academic integrity, consider using alternative activities and assignments to assess your students’ comprehension and skills.

To learn how to better design and grade more authentic online assessments, contact your department’s instructional design consultant in the IDEA Shop: (208) 426-3289.