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This content was published: June 5, 2018. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

Beware: Your testbank questions are out there

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A student cheating on a paper exam by looking at notes on his hand.This is a good thing to keep in mind as we approach finals week. Regardless of the underlying intent, there are plenty of ways for students to share testbank questions. The recent Inside Higher Ed article “Learning Tool or Cheating Aid” highlights how learning tools such as Quizlet can also be used by students to share exam questions. It’s an eye opening article with a different perspective, certainly worth reading. On a related note, have you ever tried a google search for a few of your exam questions? Give it a try sometime. You might be surprised.

The problem is not really with Quizlet and similar tools, which are designed to provide excellent learning aids for students. (See recent blog post by Ron Bekey. Also see the Online Classroom article “Promote active learning with Quizlet” referenced below.) These companies also take steps to promote academic integrity, but their options are limited. Much of it comes down to what we do as instructors, and how we design our assessments. There are a number of important best practices that come out of this, and here are a couple of crucial ones.

Use quizzes more for formative assessments, not summative

Quizzes can make an excellent learning tool for students. When quizzes are designed as a low-stakes self-check tool, students have little reason to search for alternative sources of answers, and they can benefit greatly from the immediate feedback provided. Try to rely on alternate forms of summative assessment when possible.

Change your exam questions

If the quiz tool has to be used for summative assessment, change the exam questions regularly. Even full test banks are out there available for students who are actively searching for that option, so it’s best to include some of your own questions.

Randomize questions and answer choices

If you do have to use some questions from previous exams, at least randomize the questions, and better yet, randomize the answer choices. This is easy to do within Brightspace.

What else?

Set a time limit for exams. Set them up to reveal only one question at a time where students cannot go back. When possible, use essay or short answer type questions. Relate questions to instructor-generated content, even to student-generated content, e.g. from a discussion. When possible, require students to create answers rather than find them. Have students sign or even create an honor code for the class. In another recent article, Brian Udermann points out that “research indicates that students cheat more when they believe that cheating is a student norm. Whatever you can do to make academic honesty a class norm might help reduce the chance of cheating.”

Works Cited

Bekey, Ron, Breaking up boring content with Quizlet, April 2018

McKenzie, Lindsay, Learning Tool or Cheating Aid, Inside Higher Ed, May 14, 2018.

Mullins, Amy, Barthlow-Potkanowicz, Deanna, Tips from the pros: Promote active learning with Quizlet, Online Classroom, Magna Publications, May 1, 2018. (Direct access below)

Udermann, Brian, (Mis) Perceptions about Cheating in Online Classes, Sloan conference presentation, March 2014.

To Access all Online Classroom articles:

  1. Log into D2L Brightspace.
  2. From the drop down “Instructional Resources” link in the navigation bar, select “Access Magna Publications.”
  3. Click on “Newsletter: Online Classroom Archive.” You’ll see the current articles, and you can access the archives as well.

About Greg Kaminski

Online Learning: online course design consultant, coordinator of Online Faculty Mentors, Quality Matters facilitator, interactive teaching practices enthusiast. more »

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x (Comment #32963) by Debra Lippoldt 4 years ago (Comment #32963)

Thank you, Greg! This is really important information and we all will benefit from setting standard practices to ensure academic integrity.

x (Comment #32966) by WF Grace 4 years ago (Comment #32966)

Greg. Thanks for sharing these insights on test bank questions and Quizlet. D2L offers instructor’s several options when developing quizzes, one of which is to show questions answered incorrectly, and another is to prevent moving backwards through pages. What is the general opinion on either of both of those options in terms of potential misuse. Thank you.

x (Comment #32967) by Alexa Maros 4 years ago (Comment #32967)

An important topic Greg. Sadly, my worse test question nightmare is true. The good news is you shared some simple fixes. Thank you!


x (Comment #32969) by Jason RIzos 4 years ago (Comment #32969)

This definitely raises a debate about the difference between test prep and cheating, not to mention the difference between subject mastery and assessment. Good job with providing practical solutions, Greg. Let’s not forget the UCF debacle with Professor Quinn, so many years ago. Looks like we are seeing more of this.

x (Comment #32972) by Greg Kaminski 4 years ago (Comment #32972)

Thanks for these great comments. Yes, unfortunately, this easy access to test banks is something that many of us have learned the hard way.

Frank, in answer to your question about showing the questions answered incorrectly, I think it depends on whether the quiz/exam is formative or summative. If you’re using low stakes quizzes as a learning tool, give a second attempt (or even more), and show questions answered incorrectly, but without the answers of course. Students can correct their mistakes the next time around. But if it’s a final exam and you would like to take a step toward securing questions, just show the final score without the questions.

As for preventing students from moving backwards to go back to a question, I haven’t used that option. It could improve test security, though students also like to return to a question when memory is cued by some other test question. As a student, I always liked to be able to return to a tough question, but you could certainly try out that feature sometime.

Thanks for the reminder Jason. I had forgotten about the episode with Professor Quinn. Those unfamiliar with the story might want to take a look at https://abcnews.go.com/Business/widespread-cheating-scandal-prompts-florida-professor-issues-ultimatum/story?id=11737137 .


x (Comment #32975) by Marlene Broemer 4 years ago (Comment #32975)

Thank you, Greg. I like the part about using Quizzes, especially, as self-check tools as much as grading devices. Then students can use them as such and not fret too much about the grade part, and spend time searching for answers online. That time could be spent searching the text, in my classes, at least.