Faculty Center Electronic Workbook

Detecting and Preventing Cheating During Exams

Kevin Yee and Patricia MacKown, University of Central Florida

The Center for Academic Integrity (Duke University)  reports that “on most campuses, over 75% of students admit to some cheating. In a 1999 survey of 2,100 students on 21 campuses across the country, about one-third of the participating students admitted to serious test cheating.” Given this, it behooves us as educators to learn as much as possible about cheating methods used by students. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.

While the University of Central Florida, like any large university, uncovers its share of cheating by students, formal statistics on cheating methods are not presently kept. However, informal brainstorming of student cheating methods often proved useful in the training of new Graduate Teaching Assistants and adjunct faculty members, and a list of possible cheating styles grew organically from such inauspicious beginnings. While UCF does not at this time gather statistics on the frequency of each method, the list grows with each new method observed or idea supplied by participants during brainstorming. We do not inquire how the future teaching assistants and adjunct faculty members know of these methods new to our list, but content ourselves with having identified yet another technique against which we should guard.

The dual notions of detection and prevention inform the current incarnation of the list. Our hope is to not merely identify “after the fact” how students are cheating, but to list possible measures that might aid in detecting students’ academic dishonesty while it is in progress. After all, we can only hope to catch cheaters if we know how they are cheating. It is perhaps best of all to prevent cheating in the first place. Each method of cheating on the list lends itself to particular strategies in the classroom that, if enacted, would discourage students from even attempting to cheat. Dishonest students do not therefore reap unwarranted rewards, and ugly confrontations of all stripes are avoided, all at the cost of only extra vigilance when proctoring and the establishment of firm policies in the test environment.

Cheating Method

Detection

Prevention

Using Other People

1. Whispering: asking for and giving answers verbally

listen at all times for student whispering.

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly. Stand close to anyone whispering

2. Wandering eyes: looking over the shoulder of someone or to the side

watch for wandering eyes, looking out of corner of eyes

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly

3. Passing notes: scribbles on paper

watch for contact between people

space them out; leave blank chairs in between

4. Sign language: use hand gestures (especially fingers for numbers) to communicate with others

watch for movement of hands

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly

5. Morse code – voice: use coughing or sneezing a set number of times to communicate an answer

listen for rhythmic and repetitious noises; be wary of coughing

demonstrate extra interest (go closer) when students cough

6. Morse code – nonverbal: use sounds like stamping feet, tapping pencil, etc. to communicate an answer

listen for rhythmic and repetitious noises

demonstrate extra interest (go closer) when rhythmic noises persist

7. Misdirection: one person distracts the proctor(s) while others cheat

use multiple proctors; heightened alertness when a distraction occurs

use multiple proctors; heightened alertness when a distraction occurs

Using the Body or Environment

8. Write on body: ink written on body part, perhaps covered by long sleeves

watch for furtive movements. Beware not just sleeves, but under socks or even down shirts

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly

9. Write on desk: especially when written in pencil for easy wiping later

watch student eyes; are they moving the test back and forth across the desk?

examine desks before class, watch for scribbling just before test distribution

10. Cheat sheet: prewritten cheat sheet, usually small font, hidden in clothes or under wristwatch

observe student hand movements

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly. OR: allow cheat sheets and design test for application, not facts

11. Cheat sheet on floor: prewritten cheat sheet hidden in book or under folders that are below the desk

observe student foot movements; watch for students looking down

require books/notes in backpack, not under desk

12. Cheat sheet in bag: prewritten cheat sheet in backpack; accessed when getting new pen

beware of “fetching a new writing utensil or eraser”

consider requiring bags be placed in a pile at the front of the room

13. Bathroom: leave with permission; get notes pre-hidden in bathroom (or from a friend waiting outside lecture hall)

send a proctor to follow the student within reason

scan bathroom for hiding spots before test. OR: do not allow bathroom breaks?

14. Chewing gum: write cheats on stick of gum in ink; pop into mouth if endangered (evidence is gone)

wander room incessantly

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly—cheaters will get scared and eat gum sooner than if you never wandered

15. Baby wipes: write on the body in ink, but have an alcohol wipe ready to remove evidence quickly

watch for students looking at skin under clothing or have moist towelettes handy

wander hall BEFORE exam so cheaters get nervous and wipe away the cheats

16. Invisible ink: visible only with a certain kind of handheld pen light

watch for a tiny light being used secretively

patrol the room regularly

17. Water bottle: remove label, write cheats on inside with small font, re-attach. Water acts as magnifying lens

watch for students staring intently into water bottles

require bottles remain on floor and not be used during the test

18. Baseball cap: reading the underside of the brim

watch for wandering eyes

remove all hats

19. Sunglasses: cheats pasted or written on inside of dark sunglasses

observe carefully any sunglasses that stay on during the test

require all sunglasses be removed

20. Barrel pens: pens with a small window and click to rotate messages can have a “safe” setting and use the other click settings to write cheats

be suspicious of the pen-click noise

stand near any student clicking out of the ordinary

21. Bra: cheat sheet stuck into center of bra, visible only when looking down into blouse

difficult to spot without sexual harassment; watch student eye movements; better to prevent than catch

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly

22. Leg fan: cheat sheet folded like a fan and taped to inside thighs; when hike up skirt and open legs, cheats are visible only to the cheater

difficult to spot without sexual harassment; watch student eye movements; better to prevent than catch

use multiple proctors; wander incessantly

Using Technology

23. Cell-Texting: type out a text message to someone else in class (or even at home) and get silent text reply

watch for cell phone usage of any kind

prohibit cell phones in test environment

24. Cell-Photo: take photo of test question, send to someone at home, get silent text reply

watch for cell phone usage of any kind

prohibit cell phones in test environment

25. Calculator-Program: type in formulas or cheats into calculator before test begins

patrol room frequently; watch for frantic clearing of calculator results; watch for “flipping through” calculator read-out

prohibit calculators in test environment
OR: ask department to invest in a box of “simple” calculators to share for tests

26. Calculator-Sharing: program cheats ahead of time and let someone else use the calculator during the test

watch for sharing of calculators

prohibit calculators in test environment
OR: ask department to invest in a box of “simple” calculators to share for tests

27. iPod-Professor: listen to recorded lecture during the test; possible to hide earphone wires behind long hair

scan for earphone wires; patrol room nonstop

prohibit iPod usage; require it to be placed into backpack below desk

28. iPod-Student: pre-record yourself saying formulas and cheats; listen during test

scan for earphone wires; patrol room nonstop

prohibit iPod usage; require it to be placed into backpack below desk

Other Methods

29. Mutilate: Erase, cross out, crease, fold, cover over (even with Chapstick) “non-answer” parts of the Scantron form to confuse the machine and guarantee a 100% score (note: none of the methods work all the time)

watch for any alterations of Scantron form

patrol the room often. Also, erase any pencil markings over the pre-printed black lines along the side of the Scantron (the most common method). Also, hand-score any suspicious Scantrons.

30. Shades of Gray: guess about multiple answers in the same line, all in gray so you have a chance to get lucky. Also possible to erase the wrong answers if you get the form back, and make a case for the machine not seeing your answer

give a cursory glance to all Scantrons before being scored; make a note of students who left multiple answers potentially filled in. Also: it helps to photocopy such Scantrons before scoring them, as a record

do not hand back Scantrons. Report student grades to them electronically instead

31. Lie About Answer: Leave answer blank entirely, but bubble in the correct answer in “gray” when the form comes back, and claim the machine didn’t read it

make a photocopy of any Scantrons that have blank spaces

do not hand back Scantrons. Report student grades to them electronically instead

32. Duplicate Scantrons: have a smart friend take the test on two forms but keep one. In next hour, you turn in his/her form as your own

watch for someone filling in two Scantrons during the test, perhaps one on top of the other.

use a different version of the test for each class section (or at least re-order the questions)

33. Steal Questions: keep the question packet and give it to someone who will take the test later in the day

watch how students pack up at the end of the test, and keep an eye out for questions being stuffed into bags

require return of questions; verify that every student turning in answers also turns in questions sheet

34. Bank Questions: memorize questions from last year’s test, saved by a friend or a social (Greek) organization

detect pattern of sudden perfect scores for a student whose grades were much worse previously

change the test every semester—more than just the order of questions!

35. Publisher’s Questions: contact the textbook publisher and pose as an instructor; request test bank

detect pattern of sudden perfect scores for a student whose grades were much worse previously

don’t use the publisher’s test bank

36. Feign Illness: after seeing test, get permission to go home sick and take the same test later

detect pattern of sudden perfect scores for a student whose grades were much worse previously

use different questions on make-up exams

37. Bluetooth: use the ear-only receiver to hear answers over the phone

witness student whispering at no one, or blinking light from hair

scan to verify you can see the ears of all students

38. Teenager Frequency: use the tone audible only to people under 20 as a cell phone ring tone, and then receive text messages

watch for cell phone usage of any kind

prohibit cell phones in test environment

39. Rubber Band: write cheats on a rubber band that is stretched out. When relaxed, the writing is disguised

watch for hands moving suspiciously

patrol the room frequently

40. Ringer: send in an expert to take the test for you and write down your name

check ID when Scantron is handed in

tell students you will check ID when Scantron is handed in

Reading the list, one is struck by patterns that repeat multiple times. Detecting student cheating is often a matter of being extremely aware of where the students are looking, which implies a need to watch their eyes almost constantly (this may also prove to be the most effective method of prevention, as they will be aware of the extra attention). If that’s true, proctors are highly advised to avoid bringing along any work of their own to the exam. Proctoring actively is a full-time activity that requires complete concentration to be done effectively.

The other pattern that leaps out from the list is one of noise and distraction. Proctors need to use their ears as well as their eyes. While whispering may be one of the most common forms of cheating, it’s hardly the most intricate. iPods raise the ante, but the truly insidious methods involve misdirection and multiple students forming a distraction. Any sound disruptions in the room should heighten the proctor’s sense of alertness.

When it comes to preventing cheating, which ought to be the real goal, much of the advice depends upon proctors roaming the test room frequently. For large classes, the use of multiple proctors is highly encouraged. It may not be easy to obtain paid proctors, so it is recommended that instructors in the same discipline or department agree to help each other proctor “for free” as a joint service.

With cheating so prevalent, at least according to national statistics, it behooves us as educators to do all we can to prevent it (minimize its presence), or failing that, to detect it (minimize its effectiveness). The very quality of undergraduate education depends on our success in this endeavor.