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Preventing Cheating in Online Assessments: A Complex Challenge

Online learning can make it easier and more tempting for students to cheat on exams and assignments – but there are solutions for preventing cheating even for remote test-takers.

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E-learning has emerged as a prominent factor in modern education, offering convenience and accessibility to a wide range of learners. But the ease and accessibility come with challenges that need to be confronted head-on. One of the most dominant issues in online education – and that threatens its credibility – is the increased ability to cheat during online assessments.

Compared to traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms, where monitoring and control come more easily, online assessments present unique vulnerabilities that can be exploited. This article explores the complexities of cheating prevention during online assessments. Importantly, it proposes effective solutions to ensure that online education maintains its integrity and authority.

Table of Contents

1. The dilemma of unseen invigilation

One of the glaring disadvantages of e-learning is the absence of direct supervision during assessments. Unlike traditional exams, where invigilators can monitor students in person, online assessments are often taken in the students’ own environments using personal computers. This absence of physical presence can embolden students to cheat by using unauthorized resources or secretly collaborating with peers, compromising the integrity of the evaluation process.


To address this problem, institutions can invest in robust online proctoring systems: software meant to help monitor and supervise online tests. These programs utilize advanced technologies like automated ID verification, facial recognition, and machine learning algorithms to monitor students during assessments. Through live video feeds and screen recordings, proctors can remotely observe students in real time, minimizing the scope for unapproved assistance and fostering a sense of accountability. Moreover, although contentious, eye-tracking technology can help to identify patterns of suspicious behavior, further enhancing the detection of cheating attempts.

Young male student in the classroom studying

2. Verifying identities online

Without strictly authenticating learners’ identities online, they might exploit the anonymity of online assessments by employing other people to take tests for them. This raises serious concerns about the legitimacy of the results and can undermine the credibility of online education. Academic integrity is important because it supports an institution or platform’s reputation. If this reputation is lacking, then a certificate from the institution in question is not as highly valued, as employers and other stakeholders cannot be sure that the relevant knowledge and skills have been transferred to the learner.


Online education platforms can verify identities using different tools. Apart from automated ID verification, institutions can leverage biometric authentication, such as fingerprint recognition, to ensure the person taking the assessment is the registered student. Integrating these methods with the assessment platforms adds an extra layer of security and bolsters the legitimacy of the results. Additionally, incorporating remote live identity verification through video calls before the assessment begins or using live videos can further minimize the risk of identity fraud.

3. The resource-rich environment

Online assessments occur in a setting where the internet is readily available, and students can access a wealth of information. This opens the door to plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and reliance on external resources, eroding the core of assessments designed to test individual understanding and critical thinking.


In some cases, the evaluation style can help to mitigate the influence of external resources. For example, assessments could be designed to assess higher-order cognitive skills. The assumption in this kind of ‘open book’ assessment is that students can access any textbook or their notes. So, instead of focusing solely on the regurgitation of facts, questions can demand synthesis, analysis, and application of knowledge. Incorporating real-world scenarios and open-ended questions can also compel students to engage deeply with the material, making it harder for them to rely on quick internet searches. Similar to what is often done with asynchronous assessments like essays, plagiarism detection software can also help identify copied content from online sources. Another effective, although uncommon, method is to assess the students via live oral exams.

4. The challenge of monitoring ever-present technological aids

In an era where technology is omnipresent, preventing students from leveraging digital aids during assessments is challenging. Even if computers are monitored, smartphones, smartwatches, and instant messaging platforms can be used secretly to retrieve answers from the web or other sources.


The solution lies in embracing technology itself. Specialized software can disable external applications and even devices like smartwatches during assessments, creating a controlled environment that limits access to unauthorized resources. Additionally, instituting a clear policy against the use of any form of technological gadgets during assessments serves as a deterrent. It’s crucial to communicate these policies clearly to students and highlight the consequences of non-compliance.

5. The balancing act of privacy and countering cheating

Implementing stringent anti-cheating measures can raise concerns about student privacy. Continuous video monitoring, screen recording, biometric data collection, and the ability to disable applications might lead to apprehensions about personal information being breached or misused. Learners might distrust software that is given access to their cameras and other devices.


E-learning platforms can strike a balance between cheating prevention and student privacy by transparently communicating how data is collected and the specific purpose it serves. Institutions should adopt privacy-conscious practices, securely store collected data, and adhere to data protection regulations. Offering students the option to review and delete their collected data after assessments can also alleviate privacy concerns.

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6. The global challenge

Online education transcends geographical boundaries, enabling students from different time zones to participate. However, this diversity also brings forth challenges in terms of managing assessments, ensuring fairness, and preventing cheating across varied contexts. For example, if testing times and days must be flexible or staggered to accommodate people in different regions, learners could unfairly share test information with each other.


There are various ways to ensure learners are unable to gain special advantages through sharing test content. Courses could incorporate adaptive assessments that tailor the difficulty of questions based on individual performance, ensuring that each student faces a unique set of challenges. Alternatively, they can offer multiple assessment windows with varied content so that no test looks the same. This can accommodate different time zones while minimizing the possibility of sharing assessment content across regions.

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As the digital landscape transforms education, the challenge of cheating during online assessments remains an intricate puzzle to solve. By embracing advanced technological solutions, promoting academic integrity, and fostering a comprehensive approach, institutions can tackle this challenge head-on. The goal is not just to prevent cheating but to cultivate a culture of integrity that resonates with the essence of education itself. This can help ensure that online education remains credible and its reputation valued.