How Do I Support Students in Maintaining Academic Integrity During Exams?

How Do I Support Students in Maintaining Academic Integrity During Exams?

Student at desk looking at notes while completing an online exam
"Cheating Cheaters and the Cheaters Who Love Them" by Mr_Stein is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

How do I stop students from cheating? An important first step is to reframe this question and think instead of how to support students in maintaining academic integrity. Considering what we know about why students cheat, issues around academic integrity surface as part of assessment, regardless of whether you’re teaching face-to-face, fully online, or a combination of the two formats.

Students are more likely to engage in dishonesty when they’re under stress and pressure, when the norms are unclear, and when there are temptations and opportunities (McCabe, 2012) whether the course is taught, or exams and assignments are conducted, in person or online. We can proactively support our students in maintaining academic integrity by focusing on the following factors: building a culture and understanding of academic integrity, reducing students’ anxiety and stress, and structuring assessments in a way that lessens the opportunity for dishonesty.


Build a culture of academic integrity

Provide clear expectations for academic honesty for all assignments and exams. Faculty Senate requires that all course syllabi include an academic honesty statement. Instructors can take additional steps to promote academic integrity by:

  • Discussing and including the guidelines for academic integrity expected for course materials, assignments, and exams. Let students know what materials they may or may not use to complete the assignment or exams, what formats students should use in referencing materials (preferred citation styles), what constitutes plagiarism and restrictions there may on sharing or distributing course materials.
  • Building class norms for academic integrity during the first weeks of class or prior to the first exam or assignment due date. Have students discuss and share what academic integrity means within the course and what concerns or questions they may have about academic integrity. Link academic honesty to career goals and the value of integrity in the workplace.
  • Asking students to affirm that they have maintained academic integrity expectations using an honor pledge as the first item on every exam or as part of the assignment submission. Honor pledges that include references to consequences may be more effective in reducing dishonesty (Gurung, Wilhelm, & Filz, 2012). For example, students could read and digitally sign their name to this pledge (see Notre Dame site for more examples):

The Code of Honor will be strictly applied as described in The Academic Code of Honor Handbook. Students will not give or receive aid on exams. This includes, but is not limited to, viewing the exams of others, sharing answers with others, and making unauthorized use of books or notes while taking the exam. For the group project, teams must work completely independently. Relying on solutions from other groups, whether or not they are currently in the course, constitutes plagiarism.

  • Shifting students’ focus away from only the grade and onto the value of the assessment for their learning. Explain how a particular assignment or an exam will be useful to them in this particular course or even more broadly in the future; discuss your reasons for assessing their learning in this way; and offer suggestions for how students can use the feedback from the assessment to identify the areas of strengths and difficulties.

Reduce student anxiety and stress

Students are more likely to engage in dishonest behavior when the stakes are high, they are anxious, and when they feel unprepared.

  • Provide students with practice tests that provide examples of the kinds of test items that will be used and how the test will be graded.
  • Replace high-stakes tests (a single midterm and final) and assignments with more frequent, lower-stakes tests and assessments.
  • Consider offering students options of retaking a test or substituting a cumulative final exam for more frequent chapter/unit/hourly exams.
  • Grade exams and assignments based on a criterion (how many items are correct or a grading rubric) rather than a “curve” that compares an individual student’s performance to their peers.

Decrease the opportunity for cheating through test design

Opportunity does invite academic dishonesty, and unfortunately exams based on multiple choice items typically present the easiest opportunities, in online and even proctored in-person environments.

  • Consider alternative assessments. Alternative assessments can include projects, papers, case studies, design projects, essay exams and take-home tests. Ask for a CTL consultation to discuss what options might be useful in your class.
  • Consider including some open-ended responses or opportunities for students to explain or show their work as one part of a multiple-choice exam.
  • For exams given through Moodle or Blackboard adopt test design measures and features to randomize and shuffle questions and answers, substitute numeric values, and create alternative (and even individualized) test forms and consider maintaining an open test period to provide flexibility for students but set time limits for the exam completion.
  • For written in-person exams, provide students with clear expectations for what devices and materials they are allowed to bring into the exam (I.e. cellphones), for your policies on arriving late to the exam period and/or leaving the classroom during the exam, and for your seating plans. In larger classes provide alternative forms of the exam with shuffled questions. Make sure that students know that you are present both to provide support should they need assistance, and also to proctor.

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Beck, V. (2014). Testing a model to predict online cheating—Much ado about nothing. Active learning in higher education, 15(1), 65-75.

Gurung, R. A. R., Wilhelm, T. M., & Filz, T. (2012). Optimizing Honor Codes for Online Exam Administration. Ethics & Behavior, 22(2), 158–162.

McCabe, D. L., Butterfield, K. D., & Trevino, L. K. (2012). Cheating in college: why students do it and what educators can do about it. Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore, MD.

International Center for Academic Integrity (Retrieved 2020). Statistics on cheating in college and undergraduate students.