Minimising cheating

Factors that may increase cheating; advice on assessment methods, assessment design, and online proctoring; plus links to useful resources on academic integrity and assessment security.

This is an area with a lot of emotion but also some research evidence behind it.

The scale of use of ‘essay mills’ may not be as high in the UK as elsewhere, though any use is unwelcome. Most ‘third-party cheating’ probably involves other students, friends, and family members.

Designed-in and background factors that may increase cheating

Certain factors are associated with increase the risk of cheating:

  • High stakes, low turn-around times are associated with more misconduct
  • Dissatisfaction with the learning and teaching environment
  • Perceived opportunities to cheat (don’t make it easy)
  • Where students feel disempowered and undervalued, misconduct may be more likely. Where they feel included and understand what’s expected of them, misconduct is less likely.
  • Detected misconduct is more common in students for whom English is not their first language 

Having paid attention to these factors in your programme, it is then worth looking at the range of assessment options, while remembering that:

No method of assessment is cheat-proof

Knowing that there is potential for cheating and looking out for it is quite effective in finding cheating (from Phill Dawson’s work: around 60% detection rate with no further training)

Some assessment methods perceived as ‘safe’ may not be

This includes:

  • Programming tasks, Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and group assignments are the formats where cheating is hardest to detect.
  • MCQ and short answer exams are most at risk of third party cheating.
  • In non-exam conditions, reports and essays seem to be most at risk. Portfolios, placement reports and research theses (in undergraduate experience) least at risk.
  • All assessment formats have a level of risk associated with them so none are completely safe

Vivas seem to be lowest risk

Read more on online vivas

Online proctoring may have a place but is not a panacea

 Online proctoring is not a panacea. It requires substantial investment to run; subcontracting the monitoring adds some features but may introduce some concerns, and often severe restrictions on student behaviour. Evidence for the effectiveness of some of the methods employed is weak, and suspicions raised in the process mean you have to investigate them.

The Online Remote Examinations and Assessment (OREA) group recommended that it “should be reserved for a few high-stakes examinations where there is no satisfactory alternative.”

When it is required and agreed, Information Services has researched external options and can advise. Some schools have experience of DIY online proctoring using Teams, Zoom, Collaborate. This requires substantial numbers of staff, and gets round some concerns, but does not have all the features that external suppliers can offer.

The Information Services page will include information about governance and approval of proposals to use online proctoring.

Information Services advice on proctoring - Link to follow

For further information on assessment design to minimise risks

Please see the following:

Further information

Phill Dawson (Deakin University) is an engaging speaker who takes a broad view that includes assessment redesign and trust – but believes we also have to detect cheating and be seen to.

Webinar: Detecting Contract Cheating - includes associated links and materials

Webinar: Academic integrity and cheating online - includes associated links and materials, summarising some of the book below.

Book: Defending Assessment Security in a Digital World (UoE EASE login required) – excellent, readable 2021 book by Phillip Dawson. Read online or download pdf.

We and others recommend including some live oral assessment where possible. Another of the Transforming Assessment series of  webinars covers this:

Authentic online oral assessment - an exam replacement (Griffith University)