Cheating on Unproctored Online Exams: Prevalence, Mitigation Measures, and Effects on Exam Performance

Jacob Pleasants, John M Pleasants, Barbara Pleasants


As online courses become increasingly common at the college level, an ongoing concern is how to ensure academic integrity in the online environment. One area that has received particular attention is that of preventing cheating during unproctored online exams. In this study, we examine students’ behavior during unproctored exams taken in an online introductory biology course. A feature of the learning management platform used for the course gave us the ability to detect cheating behavior involving students leaving the test page and viewing other material on their computers. This allowed us to determine what proportion of students cheated and examine the efficacy of various measures to mitigate cheating. We also explored the relationship between cheating behavior and exam performance. We found that 70% of students were observed cheating, and most of those who cheated did so on the majority of test questions. Appealing to students’ honesty or requiring them to pledge their honesty were found to be ineffective at curbing cheating. However, when students received a warning that we had technology that could detect cheating, coupled with threats of harsh penalties, cheating behavior dropped to 15% of students. Unexpectedly, we did not find evidence that students’ exam performance changed when their cheating behavior changed, indicating that this common form of cheating might not be as effective as students, or their instructors believe it to be.


Online Exams; Cheating; Academic Honesty; Proctor; Undergraduate;

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