Most university instructors are aware of and concerned with the realities of students cheating, especially now with the move to remote assessments. This guide addresses those concerns and offers help in creating authentic assessments, which make student cheating less tempting and far harder to do. Click on the links below to find out more about some cheat-resistant approaches to authentic assessment.


There are generally viewed to be two types of motivation: intrinsic (internal motivation) and extrinsic (external motivation). When it comes to learning, those two types tend to divide along intrinsic being learning because a student sees the information and the learning process as valuable to them in some way, and extrinsic being things like high grades, rewards, scholarships, praise. The general consensus of research is that students who are intrinsically motivated, those who are learning because they are invested in the learning itself, are much less likely to cheat. This makes sense, because in that case the learning is the goal, so cheating would be counterproductive. Those are the students who are interested in the material, who understand how what they are learning applies to their life and their goals. That means that the students who cheat are more likely to be either extrinsically motivated, seeking something that handing in the work would gain them rather than being invested in the work itself, or they are amotivated and have no real motivation at all. These are the students who are looking for a particular grade, who need the credit but don’t actually care about the course, who are required to take a course but have no investment in that particular course, who want praise or approval from someone, or are receiving pressure from other external sources that do not provide sufficient motivation for learning.

It is easy to say that it is up to students, and it is true that you cannot force a student to be intrinsically motivated, but there are things that instructors can do to increase the chances that students will be intrinsically motivated. This does not mean an instructor needs to become an entertainer, but it does mean that the instructor has a role to play, and how material is presented does matter. The more interestingly and relevantly the material is presented, the more chance students may find themselves invested. Likewise, the course design can have a big impact. If the assessments are tied closely to the most important course material, then the material becomes applicable. If the assessments and material are made authentic, if they have real-world meaning and application for students, then they are more likely to have intrinsic motivation to learn.


  • Include experiential knowledge when possible to make learning personal: whenever possible in assessments, have your students relate course concepts to their own personal lives
  • Demonstrate your passion for the material. Research shows that your passion for what you are teaching transfers to your students (Association between a teacher's work passion and a student's work passion: a moderated mediation model) If you are disengaged or bored, your students likely will be also.
  • Explain to students why learning the material, not just gaining a grade, is potentially useful to them. This includes the soft skills they may be learning, like critical thinking, problem solving, research, communication, collaboration, etc., as well as content and skills particular to your course.
  • Connect the material to real world issues and encourage students to connect the material with their own experiences. Make connections to other courses, programs, employment, life. The more relevant the material is beyond the limits of the course, the more likely students will be to find intrinsic motivation to learn.

It is worth keeping in mind that there are students who have conflicting motivations. The pressures students face sometimes outweigh intrinsic motivation. Many students are stuck in a trap where failure is simply not an option, and yet they don’t have the wherewithal to succeed. This could be financial issues, family stresses, family expectations, work, health, finances, language barriers, or numerous other things that put students in a position of feeling their only option to get through a course is to cheat. Doing your best to communicate with students early and often, establishing human connections, can let them reach out before they are in such a position. Finding ways to work with students and build in some flexibility can reduce the pressure students may be under.

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Establishing relationships with your students can be difficult because of time constraints, particularly if you teach large classes, or carry a heavy teaching load in certain semesters. Nevertheless, we encourage you to consider time invested in relationships as worth it, since:

  • it can increase your own enjoyment of the teaching/learning experience!
  • students report greater satisfaction in courses that promote “social presence” (So and Brush, 2008; Richardson and Swan, 2003; in
  • and relationships with students can deter cheating!

Establishing some of these interconnections: students with other students and also with you as the Instructor, requires time and attention to develop. Relationships are never bought for free. The best time to focus on relationships is at the outset of your course - you only get one chance to make a first impression, after all! Once established, many of these interconnections can be self-sustaining and require little oversight or ongoing instructor monitoring. There are many ways to establish connections – a profusion of ideas exist on the web with simple search questions.


  • Daily or weekly instructor video, or voice messages
  • Weekly summaries of content with timely relevance to current events, social issues etc. which can be generated by the instructor or by students (consider as part of total assignment grades) and commented upon by the instructor
  • Assignments that require some degree of student collaborative activity
  • Synchronous web conferencing – large or small groups of students together, either with or without instructor participation
  • Providing voice feedback on assignments (using Adobe or the UR Courses tool for this), as opposed to scribbly, hurried text comments that communicate irritation and hurry
  • Use your office hours ***to proactively schedule meetings with students***, because, as we all know, most students are reluctant to avail themselves of your time in the open office hours you normally offer.
  • Add your own ideas!

State your own Stance on Cheating

Did you know that it’s important for students to understand your position on cheating and your own perceptions of what constitutes cheating/plagiarism? You are, after all, the leader in the room! It has been shown to deter cheating if you as the Instructor clearly and firmly articulate your own expectations of what constitutes cheating in your course.

In the event that you suspect an academic integrity problem, investigate, and pursue it. It has been shown that if students believe there is a likelihood of severe consequences for cheating, they are less likely to do so. Following through on academic misconduct violations does also provide disincentives for the larger student community.


  • State the academic integrity expectations for your course at the beginning, expand on the calendar requirements, and even test students on your expectations throughout the course!
  • Requiring students to make self-declaration statements about maintaining academic integrity acts as another deterrent.
  • When submitting assignments or exams electronically, include waivers that must be completed before the assignment/exam is submitted.
    • Consider using the URCourses assignment acknowledgement button.
  • Alternatively, require a statement written in the student’s own words as part of the assignment.


  1. I have read the academic expectations presented in [assignment/exam] and I agree to comply with them.

  2. If closed book: I agree to comply with the academic requirements for this exam.

    • I will not use any books, notes, diagrams, or any other aids during the exam.
    • I will not consult with any other student or any other person during the exam.
    • I will not open any webpage, or use my phone to review any information I may have stored as preparation for the exam.
  3. If open book: I agree to comply with the academic requirements for this exam.

    • I will use only the books, notes, diagrams, or any other aids which the instructor has given permission to use during the exam.
    • I will provide a resource list and citations for any of the above resources used during the exam.
    • I will not use any other information than which has been listed as acceptable resources for this exam
    • I will not consult with any other student or any other person during the exam.
    • I will not open any webpage, or use my phone to review any information I may have stored as preparation for the exam.
  4. If collaborative exam: I agree to comply with the academic requirements for this exam.

    • I will use only the books, notes, diagrams, or any other aids which the instructor has given permission to use during the exam.
    • I will provide a resource list and citations for any of the above resources used during the exam.
    • I will not use any other information than which has been listed as acceptable resources for this exam.
    • I will consult with other students only as prescribed by the instructor as acceptable interactions during the exam.
    • I will provide a list of student names and the length of time during which we interacted, including the sections of the exam upon which we collaborated.
    • I will not consult with any other person than those already listed during the exam.
    • I will not open any webpage, or use my phone to review any information I may have stored as preparation for the exam.

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How Can Collaboration be Assessed?

In order to assess students’ learning from group work, you will need to rethink your assessments, using different measures from those applied to traditional exams. When assessing collaborations, it is essential to separate out individual student performance from group performance as a whole. Be aware that student disgruntlement with group members who don’t pull their weight in long-term projects is a common cause for complaint. Here are some tips for effective group learning:

  1. Start by reviewing the expected learning outcomes of the course; tightly tie your expectations for group participation to these core learning outcomes.
  2. Be explicit about the group participation processes you expect, and expect to stay in touch with the student groups throughout the project to monitor and facilitate their effective group work processes.
  3. Many distinct aspects of group work can be graded:
    • the group dynamics amongst group members themselves;
    • the various pieces of the project as the final product is being developed;
    • the final outcomes or projects, etc. produced by the group;
    • the extent to which students have played key roles to maintain group process and to move the group successfully through to project completion; key roles are discussed in detail here:
    • the ability to shift roles as needed, in response to the unfolding needs of the project;
    • The abilities of individuals or groups to respond effectively to your feedback and guidance;
    • the abilities of individual members to complete their individual tasks;
    • students’ self-assessments;
    • student reflective papers on their experiences with group processes and also on their learning or application of course content to the project;
    • NOTE: be careful of peer assessments in group work, because sadly, this often causes “the knives to come out”.

The final student grade on a group work project usually includes a compilation of individual grades for individual contributions and a group grade for the overall contributions as a team. If you have risked asking for peer grading, be sure to be clear that you reserve the final decision to use all, a portion of, or none, of the peer grades.

Innovations on Collaborative Exam Assessments

The “Me Test/ We Test” is a novel approach to exams that is very well-researched (see references below) and used to great success by numerous Health Science Faculties, where building team skills is highly valued (UBC, U of Alberta, McMaster, York, Ontario Tech, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran, and may others). Simply put, students first complete individual exams (the “Me Test”); then immediately afterwards complete the same or a highly similar exam in groups (the “We Test”). The genius of this approach is that each individual student prepares for these tests very thoroughly, because they do not want to let their teammates down by not being able to contribute much to the We Test. In almost 100% of cases, the students do better on the team test than they did on the me test - this is true for even the very highest performing students, with two very positive effects:

  1. Student learning is increased for all students.
  2. Students’ trust in their teammates is increased.

The scores of the two tests are then balanced according to the Instructor’s chosen weighting.

  • NB: The choice to develop a collaborative exam must be made prior to course delivery, since it will affect course design and planning.


  • During the course, try this technique on some aspect of the content which students find challenging or difficult.
  • You could provide practice sessions in which you coach students on the processes of helping each other learn to clarify difficult material, rather than grade the outcome.
  • Once students ‘get it’ you could add a graded formative assessment incorporating a collaborative exam.
  • You could compare students’ ability to grasp difficult concepts using collaboration to the results they achieve on their own.

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Higher Level Questions

Massive, high-stakes, objective final tests that comprehensively test students’ memorization of a whole semester’s worth of factual information, are cheaters’ playgrounds. And given the unavailability of proctoring software, this danger is intensified in online exams. This section will help you make your student's grades depend instead on other kinds of tests that test higher level thinking in ways that make cheating almost impossible.

For starters, throughout the semester, use frequent small, online, ungraded or low stakes factual tests to reward students for frequently reviewing their basic grasp of fundamental course knowledge. In this scheme, students gain significant Participation Points for completing the ungraded tests, (which are actually structured study sessions) that lay the basic knowledge ground work for asking higher level questions.

Then, on your graded Unit assessments, use a select few Higher-order Questions to test your students for their sophisticated understanding of the material, and for their ability to integrate it with other course objectives, and to apply it to real-world concerns. A short discussion about using higher order questions effectively, follows.

Higher Order Questions:

Higher order questions cannot be answered by just knowing some facts. Instead sets of facts must be integrated and analyzed for relationships. This complexity makes higher order questions very difficult to cheat on. Higher order questions begin with verbs like Predict, Hypothesize, Apply, Design, Connect, Integrate, Compare/Contrast, Analyze, Explain, Critique, Evaluate, etc. Admittedly, grading them can be time-consuming and tinged with some subjectivity. However, here are some tips to both make the grading manageable and less subjective:

Tips to Manage Volume:

  • Focus your questions on only the MOST important concepts from your course. Don’t ask questions about minor details that only reside in short-term memory anyways.
  • Set Down and ENFORCE very STRICT word limits on answers. This forces students to be concise, which they can only do if their understanding is clear.
  • Use the “Strategic Sampling” Technique:
    1. This is a strategy that you can use to ensure your students study far more material than you actually examine them on.
    2. The cornerstone of the strategy is to focus your test questions on the key terms that encapsulate the most important learning outcomes of your course. This ensures that students will be studying the most important material.
    3. The grading efficiency comes from the fact that, for example, in a given Unit, there are 25 key terms, but you only ask questions on a randomly-selected 5 of them. Of course, the questions you ask must be high level questions, as described above.
    4. The magic of permutations and combinations makes it impossible for your students to pre-generate a reliable set of answers to anticipated questions, because there are literally thousands of possibilities. And the time-constraints of the test situation prevent the students from sharing answers, because they are too busy composing them! Furthermore, using a Quiz Bank and randomized questions, you can make sure that students don’t all see the same questions!
    5. As a result, in studying for the test, the students must come to know all 25 key terms so well that they are prepared to apply their deep understanding of each and every one of them to unknown, challenging, higher-level questions that you place on the test. But you only have to Grade 5 of them!

Here’s how:

At the start of each Unit, you give them a comprehensive list of key terms that encapsulate the key learning outcomes of that Unit. You make them fully aware that they need to not only know the meaning of these terms, but they must be prepared to apply the terms in answering high level questions that will be coming on the Unit test.

NOTE: This will require you to actually teach these skills in class. Take some class time to demonstrate to students how to successfully answer different kinds of high level questions. (See Teaching Tips below.) Then, on your actual Unit test, you ask a small sampling of high-level questions that require your students to have studied all of the key terms so well that they can adapt, integrate and apply their basic knowledge of the terms into an unknown variety of questions that will test their ability with higher order cognitive functions as applied to the course content. Make sure all your questions will be tied tightly to your most important course goals, and make sure that successful answers will require sophisticated understanding, integration, analysis, and application of the key terms.

Example Questions:

Examples of higher level questions for the Strategic Sampling Method:

  • Students must provide examples of key terms being illustrated in contemporary society, and explain why their chosen illustrations are good ones.
  • Students must apply key terms to a challenging scenario that you describe in your test question.
  • Provide pairs of terms to compare and contrast.
  • Have students make rational interconnections between groups of 3 -5 key terms.
  • Students describe common misconceptions of the term, and explain why these misconceptions are a problem to society.
  • Students propose (and create a rationale for) a workable research question that would lead to further investigation of the term.
  • Problems to solve in Math, Science, Health Sciences and Engineering - give them 20 problems that MIGHT be on the test. The students have to prepare answers to all 20 problems, to be ready for the test. Then on the actual test, prescribe only 5 of the problems in altered form, for them to solve (choose to prescribe problems so that the key kinds of problems are tested).

Limiting Subjectivity:

Characteristics of good answers to high level questions:

  • Answer is concise and within the strict word limit
  • Answer shows good course-relevant comprehension of the term itself
  • Answer contains no misconceptions
  • Answer makes the pertinent connections clearly

In this scheme, each question can be marked out of 4 (by eliminating a median grade, the grader is forced away from giving a wishy-washy 3/5 grade to students’ answers). In this scheme: you are looking for the four qualities of a good answer: (is concise; shows correct understanding of the term; contains no misconceptions; makes pertinent connections with the term).

If all four qualities are present, then the answer rates a 4/4 grade. If one quality is missing, then the answer rates a 3/4 grade. If two are missing, it rates a 2/4 grade. If three are missing it rates a 1/4 grade. If the answer is not even attempted, it rates a 0/4 grade.

Teaching Tips:

In class, reserve some teaching time to go beyond dispensing information. Take some time to show your students how To PROCESS information. Demonstrate the following:

  • How to write a clear definition of a term, in the context of the course content; also, as counter-examples, demonstrate several shabby definitions of a term. Conduct a class discussion about what makes for a good definition versus a shabby one.
  • How to avoid common misconceptions about the term. Demonstrate several common misconceptions about some terms, and conduct a class discussion about how to avoid such misconceptions.
  • How to apply the term to a variety of different questions. Demonstrate good applications of an example term to the different types of questions that you intend to ask on your Unit assessment (see Example Questions, above).
  • How to be concise. Demonstrate a sample of wordy writing. Show how to make it more concise. Give students drill and practice in doing this.

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Formative Assessment

An important element of creating a healthy class culture that impedes cheating is Formative Assessment, which consists of low stakes assessment pieces given during the course of a semester. They are called Formative because they help to inform subsequent teaching and learning. Formative assessments give valuable feedback to both you and your students during the semester. They are important for four key reasons:

  1. to correct or clarify misconceptions that arise;
  2. To enhance long-term memory processes;
  3. to alter the teaching/learning process when it isn’t working;
  4. and to diffuse humanely over time, the pressure to succeed-not-fail.

Framing a Relationship:

The key to all of this is that you and your students frame your relationship not as adversaries, but as allies with very important shared interests:


  1. You want to make sure the students are learning the key concepts without misconceptions as you teach them, because they will need them as a foundation to understand the concepts you will teach later in the semester.
  2. You want to help your students commit the key concepts to long-term memory, and the best way to do this is through repeated exposure.
  3. You want to learn which concepts your students are struggling with, so you can take steps to clarify them.
  4. You need to spread out the onerous grading workload so that you don’t face exhaustion at the end of the semester.

Your Students:

  1. Your students need to know that they have in fact learned the foundational concepts without misconceptions as a basis for future learning in the course.
  2. Your students need to commit the key concepts to long-term memory, and the best way to do this through repeated exposure.
  3. Your students need to know how they are doing early on, so they can redirect their learning efforts - towards more study, to different ways of studying, or even to dropping the course.
  4. Your students need to have the extreme pressures of success or failure distributed - the extreme pressure is psychologically damaging if it all bears down on a high stakes, end-of-semester assessment.

Assessment Suggestions

Here are some good in-semester assessments that accomplish all four of these important mutual goals that you share with your students. Some of them are tests, term papers or other conventional procedures - but with twists to make them more effective than traditional instruments. On the other hand, some of them are simply informal check-ins - means to forming an essential dialogue between you and your students about your shared journey in teaching and learning.

1. Traditional Assessments with a Twist

  • Cumulative Quizzes: Instead of just the traditional mid-term and final exams, have instead, frequent low stakes, auto-graded quizzes that drill your students repeatedly on their factual knowledge of the key concepts in the course. It is important not to just quiz students once on key concepts and then forget about them.The key concepts need to be brought forward repeatedly from unit to unit and quiz to quiz, to ensure that your students retain them in their long term memory. These quizzes can be for low-stakes marks that accumulate through the semester, or used to determine a participation grade.
  • Scaffolded Term Papers: Queen’s University has prepared a great resource to help Instructors structure their term paper assignments to unfold sequentially through the semester, building in time for formative feedback, which leads to far better student performance. Find the resource here: Formative Feedback on Written Work
  • Reading Checkups: Sometimes students will put off or ignore altogether their assigned readings in a course. One way to increase their attention to required readings is to set up a very short quiz for each Assigned Reading. In that quiz, ask two or three questions that will test whether the students have at least read and comprehended what they had been assigned.

2. Daily Check-ins

  • Daily Misconception Checks: Create a welcoming platform where, at the end of each lecture, students can submit queries about things they are struggling to understand.These misconceptions can be addressed at the start of the next lecture, and get cleared up before they fester within your students’ understanding.
  • Student-made Exam Questions: At the end of each day’s lecture, have students create and submit possible exam questions that could be used to test the class on the material they just learned. Students usually come up with brilliant questions, which will make your exams of higher quality, and the questions themselves will give a good indication of how well students have learned that day’s material.
  • Daily Appies: At the end of each lecture, have students submit a quick, short description of how one of that day’s concepts apply to the real world, and even to their own lives.
  • Daily Mind Blowers: At the end of each lecture, have students submit a short summary of a concept from the lecture that actually blew their minds.
  • Shared Class Notes: Unless you are strongly opposed to student collaboration, encourage your students to share their class notes with one another, using a Google Doc or a tool of the LMS they share and maintain. Since “the room is actually the smartest person in the room,” why not encourage your class’s collective intelligence to work for everyone? One advantage for you in this system is that some of the work of formative assessment no longer falls to you, but onto the collective shoulders of the class members.
  • Forum postings: At the conclusion of a section of content, set up a Discussion Forum and pose a question there, to prompt your students to discuss the content with one another. Conversing about content leads to deeper learning for your students, and by lightly monitoring the forum discussion, you can easily spot misconceptions that might be arising, which you can then redress in a subsequent lecure.
  • Better Office Hours: This excellent resource from Faculty Focus has seven tips to make your office hours work better for you and for your students:Seven Ways to Make Office Hours Better for Students

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The Truth

The hard truth is that students have always cheated and will continue to find ways to cheat. The internet has made it easier for students to connect to those who will help them cheat or participate in academic misconduct in various ways. There are sites for students to post problems for others to crowdsource solutions. Students can easily contact one another and work together, even when separated by distance. Buying custom essays to submit as assignments, or even having someone participate in an entire online class for a fee, is a booming business. For each deterrent we dream up, there are ways around it for those who are innovative or determined enough, or who are willing and able to pay the fee. That means that we do have to accept that some students are going to cheat. There is no way to guarantee that no student will ever cheat and thus it needs to be accepted as part of the reality. Universities have policies on how to deal with academic misconduct for a reason, after all. As for whether students cheat more in online assessments and courses as opposed to face-to-face ones, the evidence is not conclusive either way as some studies found more cheating, some found less (Don't assume online students are more likely to cheat. The evidence is murky). The best approach is always to use strategies that discourage cheating and support learning, using good design to minimize the opportunities and motivation to cheat, and be clear about the consequences for those who do cheat.

The reasons students cheat are varied. There are increasing pressures to succeed, which is often defined as earning a particular grade or passing a class even as other pressures on time and mental health difficulties also increase. Financial pressures often mean retaking a course, or extending a program by a year or more may be an issue. No matter how much is done to discourage cheating and encourage honesty, there are some students who will choose to cheat. Other students may not see what they do as cheating, or not see it as particularly harmful. Connecting with students in a human way can, however, encourage students to reach out when faced with difficulties. Humanity is a good place to start to mitigate the potential for cheating.

As for catching those who cheat, it is complicated. A copied assignment or plagiarized work may be easier to identify. For those who purchase custom essays or pay someone to take an entire course, it can be difficult to identify, and even harder to prove. As such, putting in place deterrents and improving course design and assessment choices can have a big impact on avoiding situations in which cheating becomes reasonable to students. An emphasis on academic integrity and discussions about the wider implications of cheating are important. Likewise, taking into account the changes to the world like the availability of information and the ease of collaboration can mean assessment design that reduces the benefit to cheating. Encouraging a culture of learning and promoting positive instruction is a direction that can have a much healthier impact.

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