How Students Cheat On Exams

While it’s good to be optimistic and believes that people will generally default to being good, any educator knows that students will always find ways to cheat. Not all of them, of course — most students don’t cross ethical lines when they’re doing their homework, but even if they make up the majority, there will pretty much always be cheaters in any given student group.

As an educator, preventing cheating is more than likely a priority for your classroom. In order to do that, it’s important to know the many ways that students cheat. By being able to identify their devious tricks and plan around them, you’re doing both yourself and the student a favor. Everyone knows that cheating eventually comes back around to you in the long run, and if you’re able to prevent it, it also saves you from the logistical nuisance that it is to penalize the student.

So, how do students cheat? Let’s look at some of the creative ways.

Peeking at Their Neighbor’s Tests

This form of cheating is the oldest one in the book, and if it’s possible for students to do it, you can bet some of them will. It’s not only easy and fairly low key, but it’s also hard not to do if you’re struggling and other tests are right in your peripheral vision. Even students who aren’t usually prone to cheating may be tempted to peek at their peers’ sheets. Luckily, there are a variety of ways to help prevent this in your classroom.

How to Deal With It:

  • Spread Desks Apart: If students have desks that are close together, the first step is to put some distance between them. Spread desks out as much as your classroom allows. Ideally, your classroom would be in this arrangement by default so you don’t have to reorganize if there’s ever an exam.
  • Scramble Test Variations: Another surefire way to prevent peeking is to scramble different test copies to your students. For example, you can have three different master copies, each of which with questions in a different order. If a student’s neighbors have different copies, peeking is going to hurt more than help.
  • Use Optical Mark Recognition Test Forms: If you’re like most other schools, you probably use Scantron® optical mark recognition forms for your exams. These are good, because the answer bubbles are so tiny and packed together that it’s hard to discern other people’s responses. Did you know that you can get these test forms for a fraction of the price if you order from Precision Data Products?

Writing Notes In Places They Shouldn’t

Notes are invaluable to a student who didn’t come prepared for an exam. Even if they don’t have an answer key on hand, just writing down important information can be the difference between a passing and failing grade — that is, unless they get caught.

If your exam has a no-notes policy, don’t assume that students won’t find a way to sneak them in somehow. Here are some places where they may have jotted things down:

  • On the desk itself
  • In the inner wrapper of a soda liter bottle
  • On their hands or palms
  • On their arm, concealed by their sleeves
  • On their phone wallpaper

How to Deal With It:

One of the best ways to prevent unsanctioned note taking is to have a firm policy on which items are allowed to be on the premises during exams. If you allow drinks, consider requiring fully transparent bottles with no labels. Have students put away their phones and technology, and you may even have them randomly switch desks in case they were savvy enough to write down secret codes on their own.

Aside from that, being attentive is key. Look out for anything that may be written on their hands or palms, and look out for strange behavior such as a student constantly leaning their head against their hand — a behavior that often acts as a mask for them peeking down their sleeves to answers written on their arm.

Listening to Answers

We live in an era where almost every last person carries around a supercomputer in their pocket which can play any music or videos they want, at any time. Of course smartphones are used for cheating, and one common way this is done is through the earbuds.

Students can record test information into a microphone such as important formulas or trivia, and then play it on their phone as an audio file. They could also ostensibly listen to any kind of educational source online that’s relevant to the test. There are about a thousand and one different ways to do this, so it’s good to think of ways in advance to stave it off.

How to Deal With It:

The best way to prevent this from happening is to have a consistent technology policy in your classroom. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Forbidding Personal Music: The easiest solution is to just not allow students to listen to music during tests. Many schools have separate “music rooms” in their test centers where classical music plays — this is a good compromise if you want to appeal to students who benefit from auditory stimulation while still maintaining a controlled test environment.
  • Looking Out for Bluetooth Earbuds: If music isn’t allowed, that doesn’t mean students won’t find a way. Bluetooth earbuds are ubiquitous right now and can be easily concealed by long hair. Hats, beanies, and hoods can also be a means to conceal them. If you really want to play it safe, you might enact a no-hats policy during exams.
  • Collecting Devices Beforehand: It’s not uncommon for classrooms to have a collection bin for smart devices these days, which hold students’ phones until class gets out. If you do this, you’ll prevent them from casting music to hidden earphones, provided they were clever enough to keep them hidden.

Using an Answer Key

Finally, it’s possible for students to obtain answer keys to the tests. Even if you’ve taken precautions to prevent this, well, cheaters find a way. It’s exceedingly rare for students to actually obtain an official key that the teacher uses, but it’s not too hard to reverse engineer one from other students’ test forms. But this can also be avoided if you’re clever.

How to Deal With It:

Use PDP Test Sheets: PDP test sheets are the main product we offer at Precision Data Products. Our testing forms are functional duplicates of Scantron® answer sheets, but provided at a much lower price, allowing you to save on your school’s budget. These forms only show answers, not questions, so if one of them gets copied outside your classroom, all you need to do is use a different copy of the test that has rearranged answers.

Use Different Tests Each Year and Period: One mistake teachers make is recycling their material year after year. Some teachers run the same tests multiple years in a row, so all it takes to get a key is talking to an older student who might have their original copy lying around. Likewise, if you use the same test across every period, students just need to consult with their friends who might be in a different block. The tests don’t need to be different, just scrambled.

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