Cheating and the Role of Assessments


Used with permission of the artist. See his other cartoons at

Used with permission of the artist. See his other cartoons at

I spoke to my teaching colleagues yesterday morning about the prevalance of cheating and the role assessments play.  It seems like an odd pairing, doesn’t it? And yet, what is it that students most often cheat on? Assessments.  One of the issues was the question of whether students should have their marked tests and projects handed back to them.

As educators, we recognize the importance of prompt and meaningful feedback. We also, often, ask students to use old assessments to study for upcoming ‘culminating’ assessments. It’s common sense that once those assessments are handed back, students who haven’t yet had those assessments can easily aquire them. Does it matter if students do get to see assessments ahead of time?

In some cases, it matters… in some it doesn’t. For example, IB exams… it doesn’t matter! We actually ask our students to study past exams. Are our students cheating? Not at all. In fact, IB exams are great examples of assessments that are almost ‘cheat-proof’ (barring the use of extensive, hidden notes on the subject). What about less comprehensive assessments designed to measure factual knowledge? How many siblings and friends willingly pass on their old notes and tests to younger siblings and friends? If one of the goals of the course is a certain set of vocabulary, who cares if a student (extra conscientious?) studies from previous years’ tests? However, is the student meeting the learning goals if they are simply memorizing the questions and answers on old tests? Let’s use common sense when we design our assessments!

Stay focused on the learning goals and rework old tests so they’re not carbon copies of previous tests. Like it or not, if students are going to be allowed to take home their marked assessments we need to make some  adjustments, year to year. As important, is making crystal clear what constitutes cheating and academic honesty. Communicate with students what specific behaviors are unacceptable. 

Use good test proctoring strategies: walk around constantly, be aware of student behavior, prohibit student to student communication. Don’t be afraid to watch students carefully, they will get the message that you take academic honesty seriously. Use plagiarism detection software like for word-processed assessment elements.

A well-designed assessment that requires a student to demonstrate his/her competency in synthesizing information and provide evidence that is clearly linked to the learning goal can also help minimize opportunities for cheating.


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