Academic Integrity:
Preventing Academic Dishonesty

Plagiarism on Examinations

Exam Questions

Instructors have two options with regard to test questions: write new questions for every administration or use questions multiple times.

  • Writing new questions for every administration allows for questions that match the presentation of material very well. If instructors use old questions but have changed their coverage of material problems can arise when exams are given. However, when writing new questions each time some questions will not discriminate between students who know the information and those who do not (i.e., all students answer a question correctly or incorrectly), and others may be poorly worded or confusing

    Instructors can ask teaching assistants to write some questions. Many textbooks have companion test banks that can be useful, particularly with some editing. Having students write exam questions can be a useful study strategy for them and, often with a good deal of editing, can be a source of exam questions for instructors.
  • Using questions more than once has the benefit of allowing instructors to use questions that have been shown in the past to discriminate degrees of student learning. To do this, though, instructors must be scrupulous in ensuring that no student leaves the exam room with a copy of the exam. This is very difficult to do in large classes. Repeating questions for too long means that inevitably copies of the exam will get out and provide some students an unfair advantage.
  • If it is possible that some students have copies of old exams, make copies available for all students. The important point is that no student has an unfair advantage over others.

Exam Administration

  • When giving multiple choice exams consider using four versions. Scramble the questions and use different color test booklets. In the first row, have students alternate blue and green versions. In the second row, have students alternate pink and yellow versions. In the third row go back to using blue and green. When four versions are used like this, students to the left, right, front, and back of each students will have a version of the exam. Be sure to tell students that they may not be sitting next to someone with the same colored exam booklet.

    Insert answer sheets in each exam, and place a highlighter mark on each answer sheet that matches the color of the exam booklet. At the very beginning of the exam, ask students to be sure that the color of their test booklet matches the color of the highlighter mark on their answer sheet. This prevents students with a pink exam from copying from the yellow exam next to them and then turning their answer sheet in as if they had a yellow exam booklet.
  • Ask students to remove baseball hats and headphones. Have them close all books and be sure everything is far enough under their chair that nothing is within view or them or students sitting around them. Check to see that any information stored in the memory of their calculator is cleared.
  • Be sure all cell phones are out of sight. Students have received unfair advantage by receiving information through text messaging.
  • Be very intentional about keeping exams, grades, etc. locked up. Find out where your exams are copied and be sure that there is integrity in this process.
  • Have enough proctors that students feel like they might be seen if they engage in dishonest behavior.
  • If possible have students sit in assigned seats. Check IDs if feasible to ensure that students have not sent another student in their place. Have students keep their ID on their desk as they are taking the test so that they can be checked randomly.
  • When using bluebooks collect them as students arrive and hand them out again randomly before the exam.

Exam Grading

  • On essay and short answer exams, place a slash through any unused answer space. If using a true-false exam, circle the correct answer if the student did not.
  • Photocopy exams before returning them, or indicate to students that you may do this.
  • Students taking make-up exams should not be allowed to take the same exam as those who took it at the originally scheduled time.

Plagiarism On Papers and Assignments

  • Paper topics. Do not use paper topics semester after semester. Change topics often. Provide students a list of possible topics to choose from. Require that students gain your approval for topics not on your list. Topics should be specific and unique enough that students are not able to easily find a paper on the topic.
  • Process Steps. Do not simply assign a paper at the beginning of the semester that is due at the end of the semester. Students may have very little experience in starting from scratch and writing a paper. They are also relatively unlikely to begin early enough to do a good job. Set a series of due dates throughout the semester for different parts of the paper. These might include selection of a topic, identification of initial sources, completion of an outline, writing of first draft, completion of final draft incorporating peer and/or instructor comments).

    Not only will this help them write the best paper possible, it will make it very difficult to plagiarize. If possible, assign course points for each of these products, not just for the final draft. If you choose not to do this, at least have students hand in their rough drafts, notes, index cards, etc. with the final draft.

    Alternatively, require specific components. These might include: 1-2 sources published within the last year, an interview, a source you identify, a dataset, an annotated bibliography, etc.
  • Clear expectations. Make clear what you are looking for in the paper. Provide information on format, structure, style, footnotes, margins, etc. If it is important for you that students compare and contrast, list pros and cons, or discuss costs and benefits, be clear about this. Not only will this make it less likely that students will plagiarize, it will also make grading easier. Ask colleagues if your paper assignments are clear.
  • Collect papers during class and keep papers to compare future papers against.
  • Oral reports of papers. Having to stand up in front of a class will require students to be intimately familiar with their paper. Simply copying a paper will not provide the necessary level of familiarity.

Methods of Detection

  • Conduct an exact phrase search using search engines such as Google or Altavista. Select a relatively unique four or five-word phrase from the paper.
  • Employ commercial software that compares papers against large databases of existing papers. Examples include and Eve.
  • Examine term paper sites. Search sites such as in hopes that you might find the paper.

Related Link

Academic Integrity is Linked to Good Teaching