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Exams and a Way to Reduce Cheating June 28, 2011

Posted by etschneider in Students, Teaching.
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I am teaching for several years now. Every year and every semester I am trying to learn something during my past experience.

Most students are honest and understand that cheating will not help them, either for their life or for their career. Though, you will always find some, who will be inclined to go the easy way. And thus for various reasons.

Last semester, my exam was in a decent-sized amphitheatre (more or less 120 seats). I had 41 students. And that allowed me to have enough “safe” space between students. Moreover, you have a middle alley of 1.5m. So it should be OK and prevent cheating… Or so I thought.

During the exam I went up and down the alleys, looking right and left, answering student questions and still trying to be sure that no one would be able to cheat. Moreover an assistant was… uh… assisting me to watch the exam.

Then came the time of marking, and I have a weird memorizing process, which is 100% involuntary! I have tendency to remember what I read, maybe because I am focusing on correcting. Anyhow to make things short, I corrected two scripts, not necessarily one after the other, but I was surprised to see the exact same answers (wrong answers by the way) in the scripts. I did remember the seating of the students and I was amazed to realize that they did cheat.

The seating was like that, and the red crosses symbolize where the two students were:

Seating in the amphitheatre

The problem is of course that I have no proof that they were cheating: they were sitting, relatively, far away, and they were NOT caught on the spot.

What should I have done? Well, I did confront them and of course, they were innocent as angels and they did not know how that could have happened. Yes even, if they got the same semi-colon at the same place, and yes, even if they forgot to close the parenthesis… Err… Yes, it was a programming exam…

Students are not cheaters

You see, I should not doubt the students, how can I imagine that they cheated? Tss… Tss… Tss… Anyhow, at the end I was not happy to be sure that I had cheaters but no way to prove it. So I decided to use another approach for the next exams: oral exam…

And of course, if we say oral exam, this means it will be lengthy, students can still speak together when they are done and so on: I don’t see myself keeping 40 individuals in the amphitheatre, while one is defending. Moreover during at least 13 hours, if their time slot is 20 minutes!

That’s another problem: can we test, orally, a student’s knowledge in 20 minutes? Knowledge, which is supposed to cover the whole semester. Of course, with smaller class it could be longer: a colleague of mines had 10 students, and I think he allotted them 40 to 60 minutes to each of them, so more or less one full day for 10 persons.

So, I tried and cut the problem in two: I would prepare around 10 to 20 questions, each of them should be answered in around 10 to 15 minutes, and each of them would cover one, or several points of the programme. The students could not choose a question, but have to draw a number, this number would be assigned to one question, randomly.

It’s not the perfect solution as for reducing cheating: as I mentioned earlier, students can still talk and tell what subject they got, though, it’s one out of 20, and the number is picked by them, randomly (no computer or electronic involved, around 20 to 40 paper notes folded in four, put in a brown envelope, on the paper notes, you have numbers (I even put binary numbers Smile ) and that’s it).

Of course, some students complained and even tried to make me drop the idea because of “fairness”… Yeah, understand, it’s not possible for them to look around for answers… sorry… inspiration.

What were my questions/subjects? Well, some of them were very much lecture oriented (e.g. what is SCRUM? what is waterfall? etc.) some were more like use case scenario (e.g. you work in BLAHBLAH company, and you have to design the software for XXX, etc.). I may post the subjects here… One day.

How did it turn out? Well, personally (I don’t know for the students and the ones who got 0 are certainly not happy), I think it was an interesting experience, and I plan to continue such a thing next year, at least. Though I am not sure such exam can be applied to any subject. Marks range from 0 (sorry people but even by asking questions to try to help, there was nothing) up to 9. Yes I don’t give a 10 (out of 10), because for a 10, the defence really has to be perfect and impressive… Maybe one day.

Note: if you got 9 out of 10, it is really excellent, and don’t worry for the missing 1 mark!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution By license.
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