5 Ways Open Book Testing Can Help Discourage Cheating

As we’ve discussed previously, cheating is a concern even with online learning. Technology is an essential tool for the modern classroom, but with technology comes many more ways for students to take advantage of the system, especially since students can know more about the technology they are using than their teachers. For many, it is hard to envision a scenario where students complete online exams without using their smartphones, tablets, and other devices to look up the answers, and then to share those answers with other students. Teachers who have used online quizzes have experimented with lockdown browsers, randomized questions, and other methods to deter cheating. One potential solution to this problem that is worth exploring is open book testing.

Open book testingInstead of wasting valuable time to deter cheating, teachers can switch to open book tests, which shifts this responsibility onto the students themselves. They are the ones who must track down answers and page through online notes. Random question generation and randomized responses are still good techniques to employ, however, as when coupled with an open-book test, they can challenge students and reduce the relative value of cheating.

Open book tests can also be made differently to encourage students to cheat less. Cheating becomes an appealing option when the response to a question is one that can be easily Googled, and students may feel they don’t need to study if their smartphones can come to their rescue. An open-book test, with challenging application questions that relate directly to the course material, can help minimize the problem. Here are some tips for open book testing:

1. Draw specifically on course content/lectures. Asking students a basic identification question will send them straight to Wikipedia. Instead, ask them to analyze the author’s argument on page 34, for example, or to interpret the results shown in a diagram.

2. Keep the time tight. When time is limited, students won’t be able to blindly scavenge the course notes for the answer. They will recognize the need to prepare and have some familiarity with the material or they will simply run out of time.

3. Make the questions tough. Use distracting answer possibilities that closely resemble the answer, as students will need more than a passing glance at the material to locate the correct response. Use application and analysis questions that challenge students to fully understand and synthesize concepts related to the learning outcomes.

4. Recognize collaboration. The effect of randomized questions is that two students, sitting side by side, will receive different sets of questions. This ostensibly eliminates the benefit from working together. However, if we encourage students to complete the quiz with a classmate, they will find themselves navigating their notes together and collaborating to identify the correct answer. That sounds a lot like studying!

5. Tell students you know they have access to their resources, but that it’s still important to study. By communicating your expectations and practicing a few questions with them (online or in-class), this tells them they need to study.

Some will argue that students aren’t really learning anything by having open book tests. While it is true that students aren’t memorizing things and recalling them later, this shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of learning. Our goal, when it comes to assessments, is to measure our student’s achievement of the course learning outcomes. If open book tests can help, why not give them a try?

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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