Keeping Your Students Honest

Cheating on exams and other assessment vehicles is a sad reality in the history of academics. Researchers note that cheating was a practice thousands of years ago on Chinese civil service exams — even when the penalty for doing so was death!

Although modern academic institutions no longer, at least to my knowledge, apply that punishment, the student caught cheating does sometimes suffer an indignity tantamount to academic death. The most effective manner in which to save students from this premature academic demise is prevention.

How vigilant do you need to be? Some surveys show that 75% of students admit to cheating in some manner, and 33% admit to taking substantial and high-risk measures to cheat. These numbers underscore the crucial need for learning and practicing good proctoring skills in the classroom.

The Role of a Proctor

Your role as a proctor depends on the type of exam, the course level, and the kind of content being assessed.

Exam level considerations:

  • Hourly Exam: Is this a program course? Standardized protocols must be in place for interacting with examinees. Are you allowed to answer reasonable questions? Are bathroom breaks permitted?
  • Midterm/Final: You should be knowledgeable about the course so you can answer questions, and there should be minimal interaction between you and the examinee.
  • Standardized: Usually very prescribed, little or no flexibility in interaction.
  • Quiz: Does the program allow more flexibility/less adherence to formal protocols? Interaction is dictated by program guidelines.
  • Oral: By definition, there is a high level of interaction, albeit clearly focused on the subject at hand.
  • Practical: In this case, your role depends on assessment and program guidelines. Are you an observer or evaluator? Do you participate in role playing?

Students with disabilities often present with special considerations requiring logistics differing from other exam takers. You must:

  • Know the specific accommodation as described by the institution’s disability services for that student.
  • Be aware if extended time requirements are required and how to calculate those requirements for the student. Is the student afforded 1.5 times or 2 times additional time? Protocol needs to be thought out and planned prior to exam time.

Classroom Proctoring Techniques

There are numerous resources out there to help with proctoring best practices; the following are specific tips. While all may not be applicable in specific assessment situations, most are worthy of consideration.

  • Bring all necessary materials to the exam room: exams, answer sheets, Scantron forms, signs, etc.
  • Check that students with disabilities have brought their disability services accommodation letters to verify that they are entitled to accommodations. These students must declare their intent to use their accommodation prior to the exam date.
  • Ensure that the proper seating distance is maintained between students. Proper seating is subjective, and proctors should use a common-sense approach.
  • Supervise the exam room environment/temperature — excessively warm or cold temperatures may distract student attention, and requesting assistance with that problem during an assessment will distract you from performing your duties.
  • Be vigilant by regularly walking the perimeter of the room.
  • Guard against attempts at cheating by making random eye contact with exam takers on occasion. Make an effort not to focus on any particular student.
  • Make sure the room is attended at all times.
  • In general, do not read, eat, engage in conversation, correct papers, use a computer or laptop, or perform any activity not related to exam administration; such activities not only detract from effective proctoring but are also distracting to students.
  • Never use your phone during the exam administration.
  • Make sure students come into the testing room with only water and writing utensils — no cell phones!
  • Have extra pens and pencils in case students aren’t prepared.
  • Bring water or something to drink that will keep you hydrated and alert.
  • Make sure you eat a good meal beforehand, especially if the proctoring session is more than three hours.

To discourage cheating, you must strike the correct strategic balance between being invisible and hypervigilant.

Protecting Academic Integrity

Unfortunately, this is often a game of brinkmanship between you and the student with dishonest intent.

If you catch someone cheating or otherwise engaging in suspicious activity, take appropriate action. Students are more likely to cheat if they think others in the class are doing so without consequence.

If possible, have students use alternate seating during exams. If alternate seating is not possible, and you are developing your own local exam, create different versions so that students sitting near each other will be unable to copy another student’s work.

Confronting Suspected Cheaters

If you notice suspicious activity, you first need to decide whether there is reasonable evidence to support that suspicion. If you think that cheating did indeed occur, or if you are not sure but have a strong suspicion that it did, then you should report this to the course instructor or program director or adhere to whatever guidelines are in place. In general, you should:

  • Get additional support. If possible, get additional witnesses so that you have more evidence than just your word against the student’s.
  • Take notes. Write down any additional information that might be relevant, which you might not remember if the situation is contested at a later date.
  • Discuss with the instructor. The instructor will need to decide what further action to take. If the instructor determines that cheating indeed has occurred, there are department and college procedures they will need to follow.