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Best practices for exams

Best practices for exams:

There are many ways to run online exams, and none of them are great. If there were a solution for keeping identity secure using course resources, then we would be paying Google big bucks for it. But it doesn't exist.

Here are a few keys, and please write to Ben at if a discussion would be helpful:

  • You cannot prevent all cheating. Our due diligence to minimize it is mostly for the benefit and peace of mind of all of the rest of the large majority of students who do not cheat. That due diligence is:
    • Where possible, try not to provide high-stakes exams for which the sturcture would make cheating very, very easy. A simple multiple-choice exam with one version is so easy to cheat on (with a list of letters) that students will feel that cheating is being tacitly encouraged.
    • When possible, give more, lower-stakes exams rather than fewer with higher point-totals. This can spread out the impetus to cheat. It is completely appropriate to have the final exam actually be worth fewer points than other similar exams, especially since it is the variance in exam scores (not the total points) that determine their impact on assigning grades.
    • Try to access students from all angles: You can mention punishments and the Student Code of Conduct, but also bring up personal honor and learning opportunities as equally important reasons. Stressing the power of internal motivations can help a lot.
    • If appropriate, giving open-note or even open-partner exams can be the best of suboptimal options. These typically call for fewer questions at higher cognitive and creative levels, which helps students to feel that their exams are challenging and worthwhile. In many iterations of open-book Intro Series exams, the vast majority of students report not even looking at their notes they bring (but they do find value in the exercise of organizing them).
    • Don't try to beat the cheaters through some technological trick. Without a serious financial investment, all such methods are likely to come across as weak and beatable (and even encourage students to cheat more if they are worried about their peers). Instead, state in the exam fine print that you retain the right to have students prove significant anomalous score gains via oral exams after the fact, and that in that case they would have the option to simply accept a prorated score. In practice, this is often daunting enough that students don't push it (and holding a very small number of short oral exams can be a positive experience for everyone).
  • For any online exam, make sure to:
    • Inform students that you will give a few extra minutes to account for technology glitches. Giving students 10-15% more time almost never changes scores drastically, and it can cut down on stress significantly.
    • In your fine print, make it clear how you want students to contact you during the exam with questions. It can be email, or in a Zoom group, or nothing at all; just be very clear and stick to it.
    • In your fine print, be clear about how you want students to report if internet connectivity issues were problematic during the exam. Usually, this is easiest to address by simply giving a prorated score based on other work.

Posted on

Friday, April 10, 2020 - 13:08
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