An online test system provides an easy, efficient, and fun way to create and grade quizzes, tests, and exams; issue certificates of achievement; and track learner performance. All of these features are useful in classrooms, but the aspect of using online test systems many teachers like best, particularly teachers of online courses, is their ability to prevent cheating.
Cheating is rampant these days, and it is more common in online courses than in traditional or blended courses. According to one study featured in this infographic by OnlineCollege.org, 73% of online students admitted to cheating at least once on non-proctored quizzes, compared to 56% of students in face-to-face and blended classrooms. One of the most common forms of cheating in online courses is for one student to take the test first and then feed the correct answers to other students. The first student might not get a good grade, but someone else will “take the hit,” so to speak, the next time.
Create a wide variety of questions, using as few forced choice questions as possible
Multiple choice and true or false questions are known as forced choice questions because they force test-takers to choose from a small selection of answers. These questions are much more likely to elicit cheating than are short answer or essay questions, which require generating an answer, rather than simply selecting one.
Create multiple versions of questions
When possible, create at least two versions of each question, for example, by wording the question differently or by asking a slightly different question about the same content. This will allow you to create two equivalent versions of the test and distribute each version to half of the class.
Randomize the question order
Using an online examination system, you can distribute an effectively different test to each student by selecting the option to randomize the order in which the questions appear.
Shuffle the answers
For times when forced choice questions are necessary, provide further randomization by shuffling the order of the answers. This eliminates the possibility of students cheating, for example, by messaging each other the question number and answer (e.g., “The answer to 13 is b.”).
Require students to sign an honor code pledge
Having students sign an honor code, in which they pledge not to cheat, is a surprisingly effective method of combating cheating. According to researchers in a 1999 study, honor codes reduce cheating by creating “a culture of integrity.”
Set a specific time window in which the test will be available and a time limit in which it must be taken
Here is an example of a time window and a time limit: “The test will be available on Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. EST. Once you begin the test, you will have 1 hour in which to complete it.” Setting restrictions like this decreases the possibility that students will even have time to consult with one another about the answers.
Don’t provide feedback until the time window has elapsed
Online examination systems have many options for providing feedback, like telling students the correct answer on questions they got wrong. Rather than giving feedback immediately after a question or when each student finishes, wait until the specified time window has elapsed and then release the feedback for all students simultaneously.
With nearly three-quarters of online students admitting to cheating (at least in the study cited above), it is unlikely you will be able to eliminate it entirely. However, using an online test system that has features such as the ability to randomize questions, shuffle answers, and set time limits will significantly reduce the chances that your students will cheat.