Effective practices for face-to-face exams

Effective Practices for Face-to-Face Exams

Table of Contents

Ensuring integrity in your classroom is probably best approached as a two-part assignment.

The first part involves educating the students about your expectations for the integrity of their work in that class (see this Promote academic integrity section).

The second part of ensuring integrity in the classroom involves actively preventing academic misconduct and confronting situations where you believe academic misconduct might have occurred.

Below are tips that you might find helpful in creating and maintaining an environment of integrity in your classroom.


Preparing the exam

  • Do not reuse tests (either from previous semesters or from a prior exam period for a different section in the same semester). Students collect old exams, including exams recreated from memory when instructors retain testing materials.
    • Reusing testing materials undermines the assessment value of the exam. It promotes cheating, but it also fosters differential outcomes because some students may have access to old tests through student connections while others will not.
    • Many professors make old tests available to all students as study aids to combat these effects.
  • Have two or three versions (or formats) of an examination, possibly mixing up or modifying similar items on the test. 
  • Administer more than one version of the exam, even if it means that the exam pages are just in a different order. Use different versions of the exam if you allow students to take exams early or late.
  • Do not recycle tests from semester to semester, especially if you have handed back the answer sheet or a paper copy of the test.
  • Use some essay questions (that are difficult to copy).  
  • Slightly vary the order of questions or make slight changes in a few key variables.

Before the exam

  • Number exams for handing out to make sure no “spare” copies leave the room and require its return.
  • If you use Blue Books for an exam, have each student turn in a new empty one during the class before the exam. Remember to redistribute the books randomly on the day of the exam.

Day of exam

  • In large classes, check photo IDs or check students taking exams against class roster photos from AccessPlus.
  • Watch for changes in students’ behavior, their placement in the testing environment, and their appearance. Be aware of items that make it difficult to see the students’ faces, such as hats or sunglasses.
  • If possible, have students deposit books, backpacks, cell phones, coats, and other non-necessary items at the front of the room to be claimed after the examination.   
  • Re-arrange student seating during the examination (if possible, with seats between them or every other row), keeping a record of the examination seating arrangement. Separate students whom you know often work together and probably collaborate in preparing for examinations. As an additional source, consider taking a picture with your smartphone and keep it for your records.
  • Carefully monitor items in the student’s possession during the examination and any student comings or goings from the room during the examination.  
  • Provide students the scratch paper they need for the exam.
  • If you collected new Blue Books – Redistribute those same books randomly on the day of the exam.
  • Have the students write in ink rather than pencil as this makes post-test “tampering” with the answer more complicated. 
  • Insist that students show all calculation work on the examination paper, and removing “scratch” paper from the test room is prohibited.  
  • If the students answer questions on separate sheets (or a Blue Book), make sure they turn in the examination with the answer sheets.  
  • Have your exams proctored at all times, and make sure to move around the room.​ Use an additional proctor or proctors if necessary.  
  • If you suspect (but cannot prove) a student cheating on an examination, seat the student to make copying from another person virtually impossible (e.g., in the front right corner seat with an empty seat to the left). 
  • When possible, pick up completed examinations from students. At the same time, they are still seated rather than have examinations “lost” during a general rush to the room’s front at the end of the testing period. 

Grading exams/projects

  • If you have assistance in grading, have the same grader evaluate all answers to the same question.
  • When grading the examination, be alert to the possibility that the student may alter answers after receiving back the examination and then come to you requesting a re-grading. You can deter this behavior by clearly marking the incorrect answers on a test using a mark that passes through the answer (using a different color pen) and over the answer and noting blank spaces following an answer (draw a vertical line through the before-mentioned empty ones). 
  • If using problem sets with a solution manual, note any errors in the solutions manual and pay attention to papers/projects submitted with similar errors.
  • If you keep a record, let the students know that you will be scanning a random sample of the exams before returning them to the class. This step is important before returning them, if you offer regrading. That way, you can ensure students have not altered work submitted for regrading.

Returning graded exams/projects

  • Carefully monitor the process of handing in or distributing graded materials to protect students from the theft of their work by others.

Effective practices for face-to-face exams, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University, is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Effective practices for face-to-face exams, is a derivative of Promoting Academic Integrity developed by the Office of Student Conduct at North Carolina State University (retrieved on February 12, 2021) from https://studentconduct.dasa.ncsu.edu/faculty/promoting-academic-integrity/, the Academic integrity handbook for faculty and other instructional personnel (PDF) from Academic Affairs at Oklahoma State University retrieved on February 12, 2021) from https://academicaffairs.okstate.edu/site-files/documents/ai-handbook-faculty-personnel.pdf, and Prevention from Academic Honesty Prevention at University of Rochester  https://www.rochester.edu/college/honesty/instructors/prevention.html