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How to Curb Cheating on Remote Assessments

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July 22nd, 2020

As schools have shifted to remote classrooms, one of the age-old issues in education has risen to the surface in a new way: cheating. Some of the mechanisms schools have put in place to prevent cheating are rendered ineffective when students participate in remote learning. Yet literature continues to emerge confirming the continued importance of assessing remote learners in order to monitor what they know and what they need. So how can we reduce cheating around remote assessment in order to gain meaningful results that help us support our remote learners?

In this blog, we will suggest strategies both to make cheating more difficult and to simply disincentivize cheating in the first place. As your team prepares for the fall, the latter is worth some dedicated effort; the practices we put in place that disincentivize cheating may be the practices that improve learning when COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.


Emphasize formative processes

A comprehensive assessment system includes just-in-time assessments as part of the formative assessment process. However, any assessment can be a part of the formative process when it’s used to inform the instruction that follows. 

The closer classrooms get to the formative end of the assessment continuum, the more assessment becomes a process for feedback, rather than a graded test. When used formatively, assessment becomes a platform that allows students and teachers to share feedback that enhances the learning process. The teacher becomes a facilitator of metacognition. Students, rather than focusing on right and wrong answers, are making claims, providing evidence to support claims, weighing and vetting their thinking, and comparing their thinking to that of others. Not only do high-quality formative processes shift the focus of assessment to learning—as opposed to simply on grading—but it also increases the quality and velocity of learning itself through the process of feedback. Choosing assessment and academic integrity tools that uphold formative feedback, like Illuminate DnA and Turnitin Feedback Studio, supports student learning.

Beyond building students’ thinking skills, a focus on formative assessment processes also reduces motivations to cheat. When the goal is the process and not the destination—or in this case, conversation and interchange of thoughts and feedback versus the correct answer to a question—cheating becomes a non-issue. Furthermore, when assessment is used and described as a mechanism to truly understand student learning and needs, students have space to adapt a growth mindset toward their own learning and cheating serves no purpose. Instances of plagiarism, for example, can be transformed into teachable moments with Turnitin Feedback Studio’s formative feedback features.

Choose assessment questions wisely

As important as the formative process is, a comprehensive assessment system should also include assessments that are more summative in nature—meaning that they are used to evaluate or certify learning. For many, the concern with this is that it increases students’ motivation to cheat. This motivation, combined with the increased autonomy that is inherent to a remote learning environment, can be the start of a perfect storm. In this scenario, educators can be thoughtful about the questions included on a remote summative assessment in order to decrease the likelihood of cheating. 

There are several question types to avoid: 

  • Questions that can be searched via the internet: If you are using assessment questions from a publisher, do a quick Google search on a question or two first.
  • Questions that have very simple answers: This includes multiple choice, short answer, and true/false questions, to name a few.

There are questions that might be better to include:

  • Questions that require students to explain reasoning or show their thought processes: One rule of thumb is that if it requires a rubric to grade, it is likely a question that’s more difficult to cheat on. These types of questions can require a bit more time grading but can also sometimes efficiently address several standards in one question. So keep in mind that you’ll likely need to use fewer of these types of questions when compared to their more simple counterparts. Consider using software like Turnitin Feedback Studio, which utilizes rubrics and makes grading more efficient and effective.
  • Tech-enhanced items (TEIs): Particularly focus on TEIs that can be computer-graded, so as to save teachers time. These item types might include “drag and drop” and “hot text” question types.

Reframe purpose, be clear, and ask students to commit

Before assessing, consider talking to students about the assessment being a tool that helps the teacher refine their teaching skills as much as it is a place for students to reflect and enhance their own thinking. These kinds of discussions are more effective if you have built practices promoting a growth mindset throughout a school year, but if not, this is a great place to start.

Before an assessment is given, teachers should also engage in more targeted conversation about academic integrity and its value. It should also be stated what kind of collaboration and resources are and are not acceptable, with explicit examples. 

Consider too, having students sign an academic integrity statement before assessment agreeing to the above points. Research has shown that the likelihood of misconduct decreases when students sign a statement before assessment.

Considering anti-cheating technology? Consider ROI

The field of anti-cheating technology is growing. The mechanisms range from very simple and low cost to very intense—and in many cases very expensive. 

Many technological solutions are already “baked into” platforms and do not require an additional financial investment. Some of these might include randomizing questions or choice-order within test questions. This is an example of a highly effective anti-cheating technology that may be included as an option in your assessment platforms as it is in Illuminate DnA.

Other examples include things like locked browsers, which prevent students from accessing other websites on their device while assessing. This is an example of anti-cheating technology that may have worked well in a brick-and-mortar setting but are possibly rendered ineffective in a remote setting, where students may have ready access to other devices.

The ineffectiveness of some traditional anti-cheating methods within remote environments has caused some schools to go in search of more expensive and more complex solutions. For instance, there are technologies that look for incongruous results-based changes in data trends for individual students. There are also products and services to “watch” students taking tests.

Again, although these technologies may have a place, it may not be the best priority for schools that are adapting to our new normal. Practices that help curb motivation around cheating stand to serve us longer than investing in these technologies that may not actually serve student needs. As schools do consider anti-cheating technology, three things should be evaluated:

  • The effectiveness of the solution: The benefits of anti-cheating technology should be focused on whether or not the mechanism can help garner assessment results that are a more accurate representation of each student’s knowledge and skills. That simple, singular goal can help school districts make good decisions about technologies, rather than get into long debates on particular features.
  • The cost of the solution: Both in terms of the actual budgetary expenditure but also the time spent in teacher training.
  • Potential unintended consequences for students: When so much emphasis is placed on “stopping cheating,” it can take away from the emphasis on what we do want for our students: happiness, health, and high levels of learning. 

Consider collectivist versus individualist classroom culture

As much as teachers try to emphasize that the purpose of school is to help students learn, sometimes the practices that are in place can inadvertently tell a different story to students. 

Classrooms are becoming more diverse. With that diversity comes a broader range of home cultures among the students who make up a classroom. The concept of “cheating” and how it’s viewed varies across cultures. People who come from more of an individualist culture value the efforts and accomplishments of the individual—therefore, it’s very important that an assessment of an individual should be unencumbered by any outside influence. The historic focus on cheating in schools is rooted in and resonates with these individualistic cultures. 

However, many students may be from more of a collectivist culture. Collectivism focuses on group goals and on working together to do what is best for the group. As classrooms diversify, in order to meet the needs of a classroom as a whole, schools should be allowed to vary instruction and procedures to try to give all students moments of comfort within their culture—and moments of stretch to understand learners of other cultures. 

Assessment, and how it’s approached in a classroom environment, can also be varied to reflect the needs of all. There are times where an individual might be measured in isolation of others and where cheating needs to be deterred. But educators may also consider incorporating assessments in which more of a collectivist approach can be taken. At these times, the emphasis is put on the efforts of a group, and cheating can take a bit of a back seat.


As many districts prepare for remote assessment in the fall, cheating is still a topic worthy of dedicated thought. However, leaning into assessment practices and dialogue that helps re-establish a sometimes lost connection—that assessment is part of learning, part of understanding student needs, and part of how we improve instruction and student supports—is likely to serve our students and schools more impactful than expensive technologies that fill a temporary gap.


Illuminate Education partners with K-12 educators to equip them with data to serve the whole child and reach new levels of student performance. Our solution brings together holistic data and collaborative tools and puts them in the hands of educators. Illuminate supports over 17 million students and 5200 districts/schools.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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1 Comment

  1. Marilyn on April 1, 2021 at 7:48 am

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