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Conducting Exams


Sometimes students resort to cheating and copying because of anxiety about taking tests; at other times, they may commit acts of academic dishonesty unintentionally. Here are a number of steps instructors can take to prevent incidents of academic dishonesty during exams and help students overcome test-taking anxiety.

Clarify exam policies 

Faculty should include all the policies related to exams in their course syllabi or clarify them at least one or two classes before the exam date. It is important for faculty to specify which materials and resources students may or may not bring to the exam and which materials will be provided by the faculty member. For example, if an exam will require the use of basic calculators, then faculty can clarify that only stand-alone, basic calculators will be allowed and that programmable calculators and cell phones with calculators will not be allowed in the exam. 

Good Idea

Include exam policies in the course syllabus and clarify them at least one or two classes before the exam date.

Provide students tips on conducting themselves during an exam

Students can sometimes unintentionally commit, or appear to commit, acts of academic dishonesty due to their lack of knowledge about how to conduct themselves during an exam. Faculty should take time to explain such situations and help students learn how to conduct themselves appropriately during an exam. For example, faculty can tell students that when they are tired during an exam, they should look at the faculty member or up at the ceiling instead of looking sideways, which might arouse suspicion.

If students need to borrow items from other students during an exam, they can be required to ask the faculty member first. If students will not be allowed to leave the room during the exam, then the instructor should remind students to use the restroom before beginning the exam. Faculty can also stipulate the type of clothing students are allowed to wear during an exam or oral presentation. 

Seating students for the exam

In small classes that meet in large rooms, students can be required to sit away from each other during an exam. However, in large classes held in rooms without enough empty seats, faculty may not be able to seat students away from each other to prevent cheating and copying. In such cases, students should be required to clear their desks of all unnecessary materials to prevent sharing of exam papers. Then, faculty can distribute different versions of the same exam (as explained in the previous section) to students sitting next to each other.

Monitoring students during an exam

Walking around the classroom during the exam allows instructors to monitor what students are doing. When faculty sit at their desks and read or work on other activities, students may be tempted to cheat. The best place to sit or stand to observe students is behind the last row of students. If a faculty member is sitting or standing behind students, then they cannot see where the faculty member is looking and, therefore, are less likely to cheat. But it is also important to move around the classroom so that faculty can see where students' eyes are focused during the exam.

For exams in large classes, instructors can invite their TAs or colleagues to help monitor students.

Check Your Understanding

What is the best way for faculty to monitor students during an exam?

Faculty should observe students from the back of the room, and frequently move around the room, observing where students are looking during the exam.

Collecting completed exams

When students are required to hand in the exam, instructors should make sure that students’ names are on the exams and all the sheets are attached. Otherwise, students who performed poorly in an exam could be tempted not to hand in their exams and later claim they did.

Faculty should enlist the help of their graduate assistants or colleagues for collecting completed exams in large classes where a number of students may complete the exam at the same time.

Know the capabilities and limitations of technologies

Before assigning online quizzes or exams, instructors should familiarize themselves with the capabilities, limitations, and potential problems of such technologies.

It is important to explore issues such as student authentication, minimum hardware/software requirements, type of internet connectivity required, possibility of incomplete or improper submission of answers, improper adherence to exam instructions, limits on number of students who can take the exam at any one time, technical support availability during the exam, etc.

Rule to Remember

Before assigning a formal quiz or exam online, require students to take a trial quiz online to identify any potential problems that need to be resolved.