how to not cheat


By: John Clements

So, this post isn’t very timely: hopefully COVID–19 will soon go away and we’ll all return to forms of education that actually work.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been learning things about online testing.

It probably goes without saying that there are many many differences between taking tests online and taking tests in person.

However, one of them that hadn’t occurred to me until very recently was how much more difficult it is… to not cheat.

Here’s what I mean. When you’re taking an in-person test in a classroom setting, your basic task is to focus your attention on your own desk. I’m not saying that’s easy for everyone, but I’ve come to realize that online testing presents an incredibly different experience.

Specifically, I think it’s safe to assume that most of the people in my courses taking exams still have their phones on. And what do you do if you’re taking a quiz, and you get a message from a friend, begging for help on a particular problem? You have to either deliberately snub them, or actually tell them “no”. Both of those are kind of hostile.

What this means is that we’ve taken an environment in which it’s incredibly easy to insulate yourself from those trying to cheat, and turned it into one where the burden is on those who don’t want to cheat to actively reject those who do.

So, I’m guessing that this is incredibly obvious to all of my students, but it sure wasn’t to me.

Is there an easy solution? Well, my easy solution would just be to turn off my phone during the test. But I suppose I wouldn’t do that unless the possibility of being asked for my answers occurred to me beforehand.

And, of course, this does absolutely nothing for the problem of students that actively conspire ahead of time to cheat.

So, although it’s a little late to do this now—the exam is in two days, and we can’t really discuss it in person—I’m going to make this suggestion now: please just turn off your phone and put it in another room, for the duration of the test?