The six main types of assessment cheating – and how to prevent them

Written by John Kleeman on 1 November 2019 in Features
Features

John Kleeman has some simple fixes to help you beat the cheats.

Reading time: 5 minutes.

Assessments (tests, quizzes and corporate exams) serve a crucial purpose for any business. Not only do they ensure employees are up-to-date on critical information, they help ensure compliance with regulations and supply data that L&D decision-makers can use to highlight opportunities for further training. This reduces errors and improves business performance. 

But for as long as tests have existed, people have tried to cheat them. Cheating at tests can have consequences for employers.

In many sectors, there are fines for rule-breaking or integrity breaches, and in some industries, not having the knowledge for the job at hand can even threaten lives.

Discovering employees that have skills or knowledge gaps and subsequently bringing them up to scratch is key to keeping your business healthy.

This article will outline six categories of cheating and how you can best prevent them in your organisation.

1. Sending a proxy test-taker

The first, and perhaps boldest, category of cheating is sending someone else to complete the test in your place. In practice, this often means an individual sending a colleague or subordinate employee to complete the test on their behalf.

In the age of digital testing, it may seem innocuous to log in as someone else to help them out, but this invalidates their results and renders the test pointless.

Fortunately, it’s straightforward to catch proxy cheaters. Supervisors have always been able to check IDs when they’re present at an in-person exam, but now thanks to online invigilation it’s possible to achieve this from afar using a webcam.

Furthermore, digital assessment offers other tools to corroborate the test taker’s identity, such as single sign-on private browsers and keystroke monitoring.

Additional measures also include more frequent testing, which makes sending a proxy less achievable and more inconvenient, and asking the employee a personal question, like how much their bonus was last year.

2. Using unsanctioned test aids

Unsanctioned test aids – in other words, cheat sheets – are the second common category of cheating. Cheat sheets can be paper with crucial information written out, calculators, books, phones, computers, or even notes written on the cheater’s body. 

Using a secure browser for online tests makes it harder for candidates to get outside help

Cheat sheets and similar techniques can be discouraged in a variety of ways.

Secure browsers can prevent and record any attempt to access outside web addresses during the test.

However, it’s even an option to make the exam open book. After all, people access reference material while they’re doing their job – is it fair to deny it to them during an exam?

You can also ask higher-level, more analytical or judgment-type questions which test genuine understanding, and which no study aid is going to help answer.

3. Copying 

Copying is the most basic form of cheating: it doesn’t require preparation, or even intent before entering the test room. All a cheater needs to do is look at the answers of the person sitting next to them, and copy. 

The simplest way to prevent copying is to separate the workstations and to have a supervisor present to look out for would-be cheaters trying to copy someone else’s work.

A more advanced system can randomise the order of the test questions, or even draw them at random from a bank of questions, so that no two tests contain the same questions in the same order. 

Statistical analysis after the test has happened can also identify possible copying.

4. Outside help

The fourth type of cheating is receiving outside help while taking the test. This often consists of using a mobile phone or computer to send instant messages about the questions during the test.

This type of cheating also includes the supervisor or manager covertly providing answers to the test-taker to help them pass. 

Preventing outside influence during the test relies – as with many types of cheating – on good supervisors watching for test-takers using their phones or switching applications on their computers.

Using video to have the test supervised by someone off-site makes it less likely that whoever is administering the test will collude with the candidate.

Using a secure browser for online tests also makes it harder for candidates to get outside help. 

5. Prior knowledge of the test content

The next form of cheating is advanced knowledge of the test’s content – and not through studying. This usually happens when the test content is leaked while the test is still being prepared, but can also happen when one employee takes the test and passes questions to another who is about to take it.

Preventing leaks can be difficult, because there are many opportunities for information to get out. Using a secure cloud service prevents the questions from being passed around in local files or emails, and makes it harder for cheaters to access.

Having a large range of questions with different ones used for different test instances is helpful too.

Good HR practices, such as training and confidentiality agreements for those involved in test creation, and codes of honour or ethics for test takers also go a long way to keeping the content secret.

6. Tampering with the results

The final type of cheating is also potentially the most impactful: cheaters changing the results ex post facto. This means that they’re using a vulnerability in the test delivery or storage system to change their answers or their score, and it can invalidate a whole exam. 

Using a robust delivery and results platform with high security standards is the first line of defence against tampering. Standard security procedures such as limiting access permissions, a clear audit trail, and controlling when results leave the system also reduce the chances of tampering.



There are a few simple fixes which work against most forms of cheating: more frequent testing, adequate supervision, and using a secure platform.

However, broad changes to company culture can also mitigate cheating. Decreasing incentives for cheating can include giving employees the opportunity to reach out when they’re struggling with learning material or offering the chance to retake tests where they’ve done poorly. 

Ultimately, there will always be some people who choose to try and cheat. However, if you put good measures in place you can deter cheaters, and the more robust your assessment management system, the greater the chance of preventing or catching them.

 

About the author

John Kleeman is executive director and founder of Questionmark.

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