A Culture of Honesty and Integrity: Protecting Your Candidate’s Exam Experience

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It’s easy to become so engrossed in the concern of cheating that we overlook the real-life experiences of the people that have to use our software – your test-takers. With the growing popularity of AI, like ChatGPT, this technology has rapidly changed the assessment landscape. As we conclude our series on cheating with ChatGPT, there’s one more topic we’d like to explore: the increasing implementation of anti-cheating measures and their impact on the candidate experience.

These anti-cheating measures, no doubt, serve an important purpose. Maintaining academic integrity and fairness is paramount in a world where online exams are becoming the norm. These tools and techniques – whether they involve complex algorithmic proctoring, keystroke recognition, or webcam surveillance – exist to ensure a level playing field for all.

Despite these noble intentions, the rat race to evolve anti-cheating measures to keep up with the evolution of AI raises several important considerations. Are they too intrusive? Do they, ironically, create an environment of distrust that could hamper performance? Do they respect the privacy of test-takers?

In today’s blog post, we will delve into the end-user experience of these e-assessment platforms, exploring how the need to uphold exam integrity with anti-cheating measures might, in some cases, be affecting test-takers in unintended and potentially negative ways. As we navigate this complex terrain, we will explore ways to circumvent these adverse side effects. 

Picture this: you’re logging in to take the exam of your life – everything hinges on this moment, your career, your life path, and the future you imagined for yourself.  You flip open your laptop and log in to your exam platform when suddenly, fate has a different idea, and the screen flashes – “connection lost”.  

Or, your nerves are already shot to the moon and back because of a high-stakes exam you have to pass.  As if that didn’t make matters hard enough, now you’re keenly aware of the proctor sitting there during your exam…watching…waiting for you to make one wrong move…

Or consider this: you have to take an important exam to get a promotion at work, but there is chaos at home. The kids are sick, and your partner is working from home.  What happens when your child accidentally walks in or the AI proctor “hears” a conversation in the next room through the thin walls? Will such trivialities result in your exam being flagged?

All of these scenarios would rattle even the most composed candidates. High-stakes exams are already stressful enough – is e-assessment adding to it? Let’s have a look at the common ways anti-cheating measures could present challenges to candidates:

Technical Issues

Online proctoring requires a stable internet connection and functional hardware. Test-takers who lack access to these resources or face sudden technical issues can have their exams disrupted. In addition, candidates may need to navigate the proctoring software, which can add extra stress if they encounter difficulties during the test.

Privacy concerns

Online proctoring involves screen sharing, video recording, or even active monitoring by a live proctor. This can create feelings of intrusion among students who feel their privacy is compromised. The idea of being continuously watched by someone with access to their private device (if even momentarily for the exam) can cause distress and impact their performance.

Test anxiety

Test anxiety can be exacerbated with online proctoring. The awareness that someone is closely 

scrutinising their actions can put additional pressure on students, potentially causing them to second guess their answers or lose concentration. This added stress of an ever-vigilant proctor watching them take an exam or the thought that a mundane activity like grabbing a glass of water from the kitchen or picking up a pen that rolled off their desk might invalidate their exam could add too much anxiety to their environment.

Environmental challenges

Not all private spaces are created equal.  Some test-takers have access to a quiet, private space to take their exams, whereas others may have to deal with interruptions from family members, noisy roommates, or general household distress, which can distract from their focus. Additionally, the proctoring software may flag these noises, interruptions, or even potentially someone else walking into their testing space as suspicious activities, leading to potential penalties.

How you can prepare your candidates for success

At the end of the day, the aim is to make your candidates as comfortable as possible, while also ensuring they know the importance of honesty.  Fostering this culture in your organisation is the only surefire way to ensure your exams are safe. Throughout exam history, the higher the exam stakes, the more cheating occurs, even when the punishment is severe. The main takeaway here is that the main deterrent to cheating is not so much grave punishments but better communication, stress reduction, and better preparation for these exams.

Flagged behaviours

It’s essential to communicate clearly what could likely be flagged during an exam so your candidates are aware:

Multiple faces

If the proctoring software detects more than one face in the frame, this could be flagged as potential cheating, as it may indicate that someone else is in the room with the test taker.

Off-screen gaze

 Frequently looking away from the screen may be flagged as suspicious. It might suggest the student is looking at hidden notes or receiving help from someone off-camera.

Noise detection 

If the proctoring software detects unusual or unexpected noise, it might flag this as potential cheating. The noise could be someone else in the room providing answers or the candidate looking at notes.

Unusual browsing activity 

If a candidate opens a new browser tab or window during the exam, or if there is evidence of screen sharing, this could be flagged as potential cheating.

Keyboard and mouse activity

 Unusual or excessive mouse movement or keyboard strokes can be flagged, as they could indicate the candidate is searching for answers or communicating with someone.

Abnormal timing patterns 

Quick answering or abnormal patterns in answer submissions may be detected as signs of cheating, such as using an answer key.

Device disconnection 

Frequent disconnections or disabling the webcam/microphone may also be seen as suspicious, as it could indicate a candidate trying to hide activity.

Acceptable behaviours

It’s equally important to encourage these behaviours:

A quiet, private space: 

The testing area should be quiet and free from other people to prevent distractions and potential misconduct.

Clear desk

Only the necessary materials (like the test device, possibly a scratch paper and pen if allowed) should be on the desk. Having a clear desk can help avoid false cheating flags.

Stable internet connection

Ensure stable Internet connection to avoid distractions during the exam.

Looking at the screen

Keep eyes on the screen as much as possible to avoid triggering gaze detection algorithms.

Silence

Avoid talking or making unnecessary noise during the test to prevent noise detection from triggering.

Read exam instructions

Each exam may have different rules. Make sure the candidate understands what they can and can’t do during the exam (for example, whether they’re allowed to take bathroom breaks).

Regular movements

Normal movements are okay, such as adjusting seating position. However, excessive or frequent off-screen movements should be avoided.

Stay on camera

Ensure your face is visible on the camera at all times. Avoid leaning out of frame.

It is very important to communicate clearly that while these behaviours are the general rule, life happens. Proctors and instructors are human too. Communication with the proctoring service or the institution administering the exam is crucial when there may be possible interruptions during an exam. If you anticipate potential disturbances, it’s essential to let them know in advance.

Some proctoring services or institutions can accommodate exceptional circumstances, especially if they are informed in advance. For instance, they might allow you to pause the exam, or they may be more lenient with noise detection.  It’s essential to take steps to minimise potential interruptions. This might involve informing others in your household about your exam schedule, using a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of your testing room, or arranging for childcare if needed. 

Fostering a culture of integrity and respect (which goes both ways)

We’ve said it multiple times, but first and foremost, we encourage clear communication. Be clear and transparent about why these anti-cheating measures are being implemented. Let candidates know that these are measures aimed at preserving the integrity of the examination process, not as a means to intrude on their privacy or make them uncomfortable. Other good top tips to preserving your academic integrity and your candidate’s mental health are:

Detailed explanation of the process

Clearly explain how these proctoring systems work. This includes detailing what kind of data will be collected, how it will be used, and how it will be stored.

Open forums and Q&A sessions

Schedule open forums and Q&A sessions for candidates to express their concerns or ask questions about these measures. This can also help the organisation to understand candidate perspectives and adjust strategies accordingly.

Privacy Assurance

Emphasise that the organisation values student privacy and describe the steps taken to protect this privacy. This could involve explaining how data is anonymised, how long it is stored, who has access to it, and the measures in place to prevent unauthorised access.

Policy transparency

Create and communicate clear policies about what constitutes cheating in this new environment. Make sure these policies are accessible and understandable to all candidates.

Involve your test-takers

Involve candidates in the decision-making process about these measures. This could involve creating a candidate advisory board or running polls or surveys to get test-taker input. Implement a system for regular feedback from candidates on their experience with these anti-cheating measures. Use this feedback to improve the systems and processes in place continually.

Provide resources

Create resources to help candidates navigate these new systems and minimise stress. This could involve tutorials on how to use the proctoring software, tips for preparing for an online-proctored exam, or resources for managing exam stress.

Emphasize learning, not just grading

A part of the anxiety around exams comes from a high-stakes mentality. If possible, shift the emphasis towards learning and understanding rather than just test results. This can be done through formative assessments, feedback, and encouraging a growth mindset.

Emotional support

Recognise that this is a stressful time for many students and offer emotional and psychological support. This could involve offering access to counselling services or providing stress management workshops.

As we conclude this AI blog series into the intersection of AI, anti-cheating measures, and candidate experiences, we understand that maintaining the integrity of e-assessments is a balancing act. It requires us to acknowledge the complexities of test-taking experiences while diligently working to safeguard academic honesty. By building open communication, valuing privacy, and prioritising learner-centric strategies, we can transform the perception of anti-cheating measures from intrusive necessities to respected tools for equity in e-assessment. 

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Cristina Gilbert
Copywriter and digital content enthusiast, Cristina is motivated by the fast-paced world of e-assessment and the opportunities online exams give students to thrive.
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