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How to prevent online test cheating?

Ensuring a cheat-free remote test environment is crucial for firms that expect reliability and actionable results. Here, we cover various online exam cheating types and propose simple but effective tips to handle this problem.

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Cheating on online tests

This guide is part of the Online Test Cheating hub

Find out more interesting topics related to online test cheating.

Key takeaways:

  • Online business tests face the same result reliability challenges as in remote education, but need the experience to handle it correctly.

  • Remote exams don’t encourage cheating. Research shows almost identical figures.

  • There are only a handful of popular online test cheating methods in use. We list and describe them.

  • Easy, affordable mechanisms can stop cheating in online exams. They are native to online platforms. 

  • Online proctoring helps achieve the max level of security, but it's expensive and raises privacy issues.

  • The policy of trust produces better outcomes than even the most sophisticated proctoring solutions.

The problem that we’re facing: cheating on an online test

There is a very popular myth that people assessed remotely are more likely to use different ways to cheat on an online test. This has already been falsified in education-focused studies. For example, a research by Marshall University showed the numbers for online and offline test-takers are almost identical. It also revealed that more students admitted any kind of dishonest behavior in traditional classroom settings than in an online environment.

32%

of Marshall University research respondents admitted cheating attempts on traditional, offline tests.

33%

of Marshall University research respondents admitted cheating attempts on online-based tests.

75%

of university students admit some kind of dishonest behavior (cheating, buying essays, etc.).

People who want to cheat on tests or exams to increase their scores will do so, no matter what assessment they will be taking part in. Whether they attempt unethical behavior or not is only up to their attitude and moral code.

No one has researched remote tests for business on this matter yet. We can assume, though, that the results would be similar: online assessments are NOT more prone to unethical behavior

Dishonest behavior around the world

Academic dishonesty, aka cheating, has been around for ages. Historians find the first examples as early as thousands of years ago in China. As testing skills and knowledge became more frequent, so did the cheating. Today, in western countries, between 60 and 75% of university students admit dishonest behavior during evaluations. 

Online test responders’ readiness to cheat depends on their nationality and culture. Cheating on online tests is common in China but can lead to jail time of up to seven years. To catch unethical test-takers, Chinese authorities use surveillance drones for image recording and wireless signal scanning.  

In Europe, residents of German-speaking countries are more accepting of their exams being proctored meaning that they accept surveillance for every respondent to have equal chances.

Anglo-Saxon countries are serious and vocal about personal liberties. They usually treat strict remote proctoring as an invasion of their privacy. In the USA, there have been numerous controversies regarding the use of virtual proctoring at universities. However, when we dive deeper into how to prevent cheating in online exams, less strict and invasive measures for preventing online exam cheating are met with understanding. 

Young woman taking an online test

Anglo-Saxon countries are usually against strict proctoring, while German-speaking accept it

Scientists blame academic dishonesty on modern society and its values. In a goal-driven world, kids start their unethical practices in high schools, sometimes even during primary education. They then continue to cheat on tests and exams as university students. Being the best, or at least among the best, has become the end that justifies the means.

The perception of academic dishonesty is disparate in different parts of the world. Among the countries with the least cheating and the most negative attitude toward it are the US, the Netherlands, and Israel. At the other end of the spectrum is Russia, with students more likely to condemn reporting cheating than unethical behavior itself.

Many academics link the attitude toward cheating with that toward corruption. Usually, both are either condemned or tolerated, and hardly any societies approve of one but criticize the other. It is safe to say that allowing students to cheat creates a generation more willing to give or accept bribes.

Stopping those unethical behavior requires both means and know-how. To conduct an online exam without cheating, we don’t always need strict, invasive proctoring solutions. We need to understand the problem.

The most common ways to cheat on a test and how to minimize cheating in online exams

When confronted with a digital exam environment, even the most experienced education and business professionals tend to make rookie mistakes. The biggest one is treating online assessments as if they were traditional ones, but web-based. Wrong. It's a completely different world.

The key to understanding what is proctored exam and how to prevent cheating in online tests is awareness. When we know the threats we're facing when assessing remotely, we can deter the majority of potential wrongdoers. And catch the rest red-handed. 

There are 5 main online test cheating methods. 4 by unauthorized materials and 1 by unauthorized 3rd persons. We list them below to raise awareness as well as facilitate prevention and detection.

1. Sticky notes

Traditional cheating aids are still the most common means of academic dishonesty. Unlike in in-person exams, during online assessments, no supervisors can notice a hidden cheat sheet. 

2. Software and gadgets 

When it comes to taking advantage of the latest technologies for the purpose of cheating, online test respondents are extremely creative. They might use screencast software or external cameras to allow others to see questions and help them during the exam. 

They might also try to conceal the use of their smartphones, earphones, and smartwatches to google whatever problems they encounter during the assessment. It is extremely hard to remotely control whether electronic devices present during an online assessment are not used for the purpose of dishonest behavior. 

The best course of action is to ban their presence. Even if this rule might be hard to enforce, clear information (that f.ex. smartphones are forbidden, and their use would lead to a failed exam) can be a powerful deterrent for the responders.

3. Tweaking test time limits

This occurs when computer-savvy respondents use browser plug-ins to change the content of displayed websites. A user who knows how to cheat on online timed test can add more time to answer a question or finish a test. This way, respondents can trick some remote assessment software.

4. Toilet break

This is a cheating evergreen from the times of offline tests. Students or respondents suddenly declare that they need to go to the bathroom, and supervisors simply don't know how to avoid cheating on online exams.

In fact, the cheeky ones can even claim that it is because of the stress connected with an online test. Once outside their assessment room (in-person or virtual), they are free to look up answers to test questions in books, notes, or online. 

In many respects, this cheating method is similar to the two mentioned first. Additionally, a toilet break is often the moment when an impersonator (we describe this method below) appears, taking the real respondent’s place.

5. Impersonation

This cheating technique emerged during COVID-19. In this case, someone other than the actual respondent completes a part or the entire assessment. For example, a test-taker can ask their better-learned friend to sit an exam for them. Sometimes they even hire another person to take the test in their stead.

During the pandemic, remote hiring was plagued with cases of impersonation. Candidates would turn up for work, not being the ones present at online interviews. All because, during the recruitment tests, it was the impersonator, who took the assessment. Plus, there was no follow-up interview, which could result in the impersonator being caught.

Impersonation is the type of online test cheating possible when:

  • there is no ID screening before and/or during the remote assessment,

  • there is no respondent cameras monitoring during the exam,

  • respondents can take bathroom breaks during the test, but most of all,

  • there is no follow-up interview, including a discussion on choices made during the online assessment.

Fun facts:

One case of impersonation happened in what was called a ‘well-known mid-Atlantic university', in the early days of COVID-19. When reviewing assessments, teachers spotted one individual impersonating at least a dozen students. Behind the impostor, who turned out to be from Quatar, they noticed a spreadsheet with student names, exam schedules, and websites to look up answers.


Impersonation was especially prevalent in India during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hiring managers had a really hard time coming up with ideas on how to stop cheating in online exams. This phenomenon reached the level of absurdity when even fraud detection companies faced the same impersonation problems when recruiting for their ranks. 

How to stop online cheating with proctoring solutions?

For those businesses where high-stakes assessments are (almost) a daily occurrence, integrity and result reliability play a crucial part. They often use stricter exam procedures that include 3rd party software controlling respondent’s every gesture with:

  • movement detection,

  • device detection,

  • background voice detection,

  • browser lockdown.

However, it is controversial. Some remote proctoring platforms offer security measures so harsh that they are referred to by the test responders as ‘spyware’. This can damage the reputation of any company willing to use those solutions, f.ex. for candidate screening.

After all, even the most advanced AI makes mistakes. If someone knows that their involuntary gaze could be flagged as cheating, they probably won't feel good about it. That could immediately and arbitrarily end online exams. How to prevent cheating with artificial intelligence is still a subject of research.

Maintaining the integrity of remote assessments and ensuring result reliability should always go hand in hand with the end users' experience.

Companies who know what does proctoring mean and pursuing cheating prevention too hard might be labeled ‘Big Brothers’. They might see a drop in job applications or employees’ willingness to train and take periodical assessments. It is better to strive for higher respondent engagement and satisfaction instead.

In 99% of Testportal user cases, smart anti-cheating techniques can deter respondents from attempting unethical behavior. They will also detect those who take advantage of the cheating methods we describe in this article.

It is an easy-to-implement, respondent-friendly and cost-effective solution. It is also tested by many businesses operating in HR, talent acquisition, trainings, as well as team leaders and certification managers. 

A man congratulating on passing an online exam

Successful application of online test security measures leads to creating a better workforce

The only guide you’ll ever need on how to detect cheating on online exams

Not being present in one room with a person supervising the assessment may encourage cheating and make it easier. However, the same internet environment that presents cheaters with new possibilities also gives new options for ensuring the integrity and reliability of online tests.

Recruitment managers, trainers, team leaders, certification professionals, and all the others, listen up!

To prevent online cheating in your company, simply use the smart and/or advanced techniques listed below.

Smart techniques

  1. Keep your questions complex and your rules simple
    Don’t include problems that the respondents can just google. Instead, concentrate on those that require higher-order thinking. Alternatively, phrase your question in such a way that they might find it impossible to look up the answers online.

  2. Randomize questions and answers order
    Create question variants to prevent collaboration, use categories, and draw subsets to ensure that every respondent receives a unique online test. This technique is similar to what teachers use for offline evaluations but much better as it offers large numbers of random tests created in seconds.

  3. Use restrictive time limits
    Select the platform capable of measuring time on the server side, giving hardly any chance to cheat. In case of network problems, it ensures that elapsed time remains unchanged when respondents reconnect to their assessments.



    You can set time limits for the entire test and specific questions to leave respondents little time for cheating. Don't forget that for some people sitting an exam, tight time limits may cause anxiety. 

  4. Limit online assessment availability to respondents 
    When a remote test is available to anyone, the results reliability is compromised. There can simply be no guarantee that those taking the test are the same persons who are supposed to be assessed. 

    The best solution on how to give test online without cheating is to reduce the number of respondents to those present on an email list only. This can be achieved by sending them one-time, individual access codes. Online assessment platforms also allow test owners to determine how many test attempts can respondents make. 

    To maintain the integrity and ensure results reliability, test-takers should only be able to take the test once and in a specific period (f.ex. 2-hour time window). Of course, they should be informed beforehand of those limits and that the score they achieve will be final.

  5. Display only one test question at a time
    Make sure your online quiz has the questions in a fixed order, so students can't move back and forth between questions. This way, even if they can somehow copy the correct answer to a problem they already solved, there is no way for them to use that knowledge.

  6. Require acknowledgement of security measures before the start 
    Modern online exam platforms make it simple to prepare a test start page, where the respondents enter their details before taking the exam. With the same form, you can require acknowledging the security measures in place before the test commences. 

    This document is often called an Academic Integrity Contract. It should be more than a list of security measures. It should also stress the importance of ethical behavior and its benefits for both parties of the remote assessment.

    The Academic Integrity Contract is an easy and effective way of how to stop cheating on tests. People who are supervised are less likely to attempt unethical behavior because they don't want to get caught.

  7. Use non-intrusive proctoring solutions that don't require any third-party installation 
    Good online assessment platforms come with native features that make cheating extremely difficult and easy to detect. 

Try Honest Respondent Technology which works in browsers and Microsoft Teams on all devices. There is no installation required, so it is convenient and non-intrusive. All violations trigger a warning to the respondent so they know which behaviors to avoid.

Test supervisors can receive real-time information and stop the test if necessary. When the assessment takes place in a conferencing software environment, they can also contact the respondent or rewatch camera feed recordings.

Advanced techniques

  1. Use video conferencing software and record the test 
    It's the most important tool under the supervisors’ belts. A recorded session on Microsoft Teams or similar software greatly improves results’ reliability. It allows supervisors to rewatch any part of the assessment, to ensure no dishonest behavior occurred.

  2. A note to respondents about the test recording is also a powerful deterrent
    It is scientifically proven to greatly discourage them from even trying to cheat. Video feed recording is also helpful when dealing with other types of unethical behavior. 

  3. Review recorded assessments to double-check for online test cheating
    Whenever possible, a review should follow the standard remote exam. A trained professional can review the recording and identify any cheating behaviors that were not caught during the assessment. And that is a proctored exam definition.

Secure your assessments with additional online proctoring solutions. 
Organizers of high-stakes exams and certifications can add another layer of integrity protection with high-end, proven anti-cheating features.

They come at an extra cost, starting at around $4 per respondent, per test, and offer several features:

  • facial recognition, and respondent’s verification against their photo ID card,

  • gaze direction detection,

  • speech detection, including background noises,

  • unauthorized person detection,

  • computer lockdown with dedicated software that also detects and blocks secondary monitor or smartphone use,

  • earphones use detection.

Case-by-case guide on how to stop cheating on exams in the business world

For a forward-thinking company, people are everything. Businesses must concentrate on choosing the right employees, perfecting their skills and ensuring they remain valuable assets to the firm. At every step of that process, there is no progress without testing.

Maintaining the reliability of online assessment results proved difficult when traditional proctoring methods used for remote testing failed miserably.

Managers needed solutions designed for online evaluation, and the available platforms offered either ineffective or highly invasive and expensive options. Gradually, they were able to introduce dependable means for each of their major use cases.

Hiring

Assessment results provide additional, valuable input during the selection process. Whether offline or online, the decision to hire shouldn’t be based on the remote test only. Obtained results and derived insights provide, however, incredible grounds for follow-up questions during the interview. 

During the pre-hire testing, it is best practice to use basic techniques and not over-invest in proctoring. At this stage, online cheating is not very common, and candidates will still need to explain their answers during the interview.

Remote recruitments for web-based jobs face challenges when it comes to maintaining company culture. Online assessments are a great way for managers to measure the skills, knowledge, and cultural fit of prospective employees.

With remote tests, talent acquisition professionals can also easily determine whether the candidate has the desired soft skills, such as flexibility, teamwork abilities, etc.

Man taking an online interview

A good candidate can explain and support choices made during the online assessment during an interview

Employee assessment

Testing employees usually involves sales and customer support. During online assessments, sales skills, product knowledge, and standard operating procedures should be measured, as well as the reaction time.

Restrictive time measurement per test question, corresponding to real-life scenarios, is crucial here. Asking questions that require scenarios, instead of simple yes/no or multiple choice questions, makes the results more credible and eliminates cheating.

Making sure all employees are up to date with company procedures, product knowledge, etc., requires extensive testing. Online assessments have the advantage of saving time, effort, and money and are hugely convenient for the workforce.

Whenever the management deems it necessary, use soft, smart proctoring methods described in this article to uphold the integrity of the remote tests. High stakes should still be remotely proctored with advanced features from this article.

Training assessment

Online assessments facilitate and speed up learning processes, making them incredibly cost-effective. However, some companies are still uneasy about the reliability of results obtained from remote tests.

Fortunately, there are easy ways of how to stop cheating on online tests and receive fail-proof data to back up the training investment. Test creators should concentrate on both before & after-training tests to clearly demonstrate the progress in skills and knowledge.

There are also different, smarter proctoring approaches, depending on the type of training:

ILT (Instructor-led training) - the trainer is at the same time the offline proctor and should use online assessment software to automate test marking. In this case, no online remote proctoring is usually necessary.

VILT (Virtual instructor-led training) - in this kind of training, there is a meeting and session anyway, so the trainer can proctor at the same time.

eLearning - here, each case should be analyzed individually. Only in a minority of cases will advanced proctoring be needed. Sometimes, a minimal cheating ratio is acceptable, as focusing on the majority of employees is ultimately more beneficial than pursuing advanced proctoring. Even if they cheat, it will show later on, when working on real tasks.

Certification

Online assessments play a crucial role in remote certification processes but are sometimes also used on-site. 

In on-site, offline certification cases, a human proctor monitors respondents, with assessment software support if necessary.

For offline certification, the level of proctoring needed depends on the complexity of the task. Cheaters are more likely to be caught if both online and offline tests are included.

Even if not, they'll underperform at the final stage. In the case of online-only assessments, the two variables to consider here are the type of the test and the technical knowledge of respondents.

How to test students online without cheating - post-evaluation analysis

Review your recorded session and reports generated by proctoring software. Look for any abnormalities. As a rule of thumb, whenever in doubt, rewatch the recording and trust your instincts.

Check the time it took to complete the test and answer each question. Say, you have a correct answer that requires over a minute of mathematical computations, yet it took 5 seconds to solve. The respondent must be either a genius or a cheater.

Cheating respondents often fake spending a lot of time when in fact, they knew the answers in advance or were able to look them up. This will be easy to spot as the time to answer most questions will be very short (only a few seconds). Plus, a respondent would wait for a minute at one or two for the total time to look reliable.

The above-mentioned ideas are guaranteed to greatly improve the reliability of the results . Yet, by no means will they eliminate the problem of online exam cheating entirely.

For example, there have been cases of forging ID cards for the purpose of remote assessments. However, this turns dishonest behavior into a crime and elevates consequences from a test failure to a court case. Possibly even jail time.

Summary. To prevent cheating on online exams, simply follow this advice

The best way forward on how to conduct online test without cheating seems to be integrity, rather than security. Companies that want to see reliable remote assessment results should concentrate on being positive, trusting, and educative.

According to Associate Professor Phillip Dawson from Deakin University in Australia, the policy of prevention is much more effective than a policy of surveillance. The latter can be described as negative, adversarial, and punitive.

The prevention methods mentioned above are in line with the security measures described in this article. Surveillance, on the other hand, seems to be associated with draconian measures of spycraft that online proctoring platforms offer.

Businesses must make sure that online tests are conducted fairly and accurately. Achieving that takes knowing how. To stop cheating in exams is important for hiring managers, team leaders, HR managers, certification specialists, and others. To receive reliable and actionable data, however, they don’t need to resort to strict proctoring techniques, which are wholeheartedly detested all over the world.

The best way to improve security is to focus on creating trust and providing accurate information about remote security measures.

Lightweight and non-intrusive solutions are the best way to achieve both high result reliability and a smooth respondent exam experience. It is a win-win outcome for both parties.

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