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Students like online exams but not just because they can cheat more easily


A big worry about exams, and indeed other forms of assessment, is student cheating – but that does not mean that heavy-handed electronic monitoring, restriction on using resources or plagiarism detection software is the answer. 

The start of the pandemic in March 2020 caused universities to do a rapid pivot from the well-entrenched invigilated, timed, unseen exams to online tests mostly taken at home. A study from the Centre for Online and Distance Education, University of London, has shown that students doing online exams for the University of London’s distance learning programmes preferred the online exams done from the comfort of their own homes without the pressure to travel to an examination centre and with a bit more freedom from relying on memory alone. 

Cynics might have it that online, and especially, open book exams give students carte blanche to plagiarise, copy and collude with other students. But cheating is not inevitable. The study provides evidence that some programme teams changed exam questions for the online shift to ensure that students could not copy and paste answers.

If questions requiring memorisation are replaced with more probing ones and questions that require application of knowledge, then cheating becomes much more difficult. It is also possible that these better designed exams will encourage students to learn more deeply in future.