Tag Archives: cheat-proof exams

Allowing Student Notes for Exams without Encouraging Cheating

The University Testing Center has just notified faculty that because of increased usage, Center staff cannot collect notes that faculty allow students to use during an exam.  Alternatives exist for faculty-created handouts (e.g. embedding them in ANGEL exam question sets), but how to deal with student-created notes is another challenge.

Many faculty allow students to bring in a page of notes to their exams because in preparing that page of notes, students review the material, synthesize it, and think about what is most important. All of these help students learn! 

However, other faculty are concerned that if students are allowed their own notes, some will take the opportunity to copy exam questions and pass them on to other students.  Is it possible to discourage such behavior, but still allow student-created notes?

Using a bank of test items and randomly drawing questions provides each student with a unique exam. If the bank is large and the questions sufficiently varied, there is little advantage to copying questions and sharing them with other students.  Faculty who use question banks should also take steps to ensure that each test is of comparable difficulty. Subdividing questions into different levels of difficulty and drawing a specified percent from each level is a good method to ensure that each unique exam is equally difficult.

A faculty member can also provide students with blank, but marked note paper, for students to use for their exam notes.  As a deterrent from adding notes during the exam, ask students to return the note paper in class after taking the test. Choose a marking that is difficult to replicate and easy to identify as an item student are allowed to use during the test.

While neither strategy is guaranteed to be 100% effective, both of them:
  a) communicate to students that cheating is unacceptable, and
  b) make it more difficult to cheat.  

Please share your thoughts on student-created notes and anti-cheating efforts.