Know how to Fight the 6 Common Categories of Workplace Exam Cheating

Posted: 01/03/2020 - 00:00
There are practical measures organizations can take to discourage cheating on workplace exams.
  • There are practical measures organizations can take to discourage various forms of cheating. While some people may always feel inclined to cheat, it’s possible to reduce such fraud with these straightforward and practical steps.

Tests, from simple quizzes to formal corporate exams, are a valuable way to keep employees up to date on information and knowledge. In many industries, particularly those where mistakes could cost large sums of money, or even lives, regular testing is mandatory.

Testing also generates data to help decision-makers move the company in the right direction. If employees are consistently falling short in some area of the business, for instance, it’s clearly worth working out why and dedicating more resources to learning and development in that area. However, cheating stymies all these benefits. 

Six main categories of cheating are outlined in the International Test Commission’s (ITC) Guidelines on the Security of Tests, Exams and Other Assessments. This article will describe these categories and offer guidance on how to combat each type of cheating in the context of workplace tests and exams.

Proxy Cheating

In proxy cheating, the candidate sends someone else in their place, often a subordinate or colleague. This form of cheating has become easier in the age of digital testing in which a person can login using someone else’s credentials.

Fortunately, it’s practical to catch proxy cheaters. Better proctoring significantly cuts the rate of identity cheating because proctors can check that the person sitting the test matches their ID — whether in-person or over the Internet using a webcam. Single sign-on can also help reduce proxy cheating as cheaters may be more reluctant to share their details if they allow access to all of their digital information. 

Expert Help

A second type of cheating is the use of expert help. This involves the candidate consulting with someone outside the testing room, often using instant messaging, to share questions and look up answers. Outside assistance can even come from unscrupulous proctors that help candidates out with the exam. 

That said, reliable proctoring (whether in-person or digitally) is effective against cheaters receiving outside help. It can catch a candidate’s sneaky glance at their cell phone or a covert switch to a messaging app on their computers. A secure browser that prevents test-takers from switching screens can also inhibit this type of cheating.

Unauthorized Test Aids 

Be aware of unauthorized test aids. These aids, commonly cheat sheets, can take many forms, including notes on scraps of paper, tissues, erasers, hidden in water bottles or up sleeves, or digitally on calculators or the test computer. The only limit to hiding cheat sheets is the cheater’s creativity! 

As with almost all forms of cheating, effective proctoring is a great first step against unsanctioned test aids. Merely knowing there will be a proctor discourages candidates from trying these measures, and a suitable proctor can catch the covert glances of those who still choose to cheat.

Organizations can also negate this type of cheating by making the exam open book and asking higher-level questions that test for a deeper understanding of the subject. Further, a secure web browser can block candidates from switching over to another application to review notes or search for answers, reducing the possibility of using a digital cheat sheet.

Answer Copying 

Candidates can cheat in a testing room through good old-fashioned copying. All a cheater needs to do is look over at the screen of the person sitting next to them. This type of cheating is particularly insidious because it doesn’t necessarily require pre-planning, which can make it harder to detect.

However, there are also some easy measures that can thwart copying. Obviously, moving test stations farther apart makes it more challenging to cheat. A more high-tech solution is to use modern test software which offers the option to randomize choice or question order so it is harder to copy answers. Many test platforms also provide the option to draw questions randomly from a bank of questions, meaning that no two tests will be in the same order or contain all of the same questions, rendering copying almost impossible. 

Seeing the Questions Before the Test Starts

If a candidate sees the test in advance of taking it, he or she has a major advantage. Leaking of the test can happen if the test is insufficiently secured, if an untrustworthy member of the group writing the test chooses to share it with a candidate or if one candidate passes it along to others.

Simple security measures can make leaks less likely. Firstly, the test shouldn’t be passed around the company’s internal file system or over email. Ideally, the test should be hosted on a secure cloud service where the questions and answers are out of reach of unauthorized users.

Standard HR and security practices, as well as ensuring that only those who are explicitly required to be involved in the test writing have access to it, go a long way to hindering cheaters getting their hands on the content before the day. It can also help to randomize and vary questions as well as educate everyone on the value of fair tests.

Gaining Access to the Assessment System Illegitimately

More sophisticated cheaters may try to change their exam results after the fact. In these cases, candidates take advantage of a vulnerability in the test delivery system or the platform that hosts the results to change their answers or even alter their score directly. Once a candidate has access to this extent, they can invalidate the whole exam, not only for themselves but for all other candidates. 

Fortunately, this type of cheating is rare compared to other more straightforward techniques. It’s also preventable. Using a secure delivery and results platform hosted off-site, limiting access permissions, keeping a clear audit trail and controlling access to the results system all make it more challenging to change outcomes.

Stay Smart

Overall, there are practical measures organizations can take to discourage various forms of cheating. Proctoring, for instance, is effective against almost all types of cheating. Ensuring the assessment platform is secure will prevent cheaters from accessing and tampering with answers. Changing the assessment design, such as making a test open book and testing for deeper understanding, can also reduce cheating and improve the validity of assessments. It’s also helpful to educate people to discourage cheating and the rationalization of cheating. Some people may always feel inclined to cheat, but it’s possible to reduce such fraud with these straightforward and practical steps.


About The Author

John Kleeman's picture

John Kleeman is Executive Director and Founder of Questionmark. He is one of the pioneers of digital assessments and has 30 years of experience in the industry. He writes and speaks regularly on assessments, compliance and data privacy, is involved in several assessment standards initiatives and is on the board of directors of the Association of Test Publishers.