Majority of students cheat in online exams – study

Review of surveys involving more than 4,600 participants suggests rates of academic misconduct rocketed during Covid-19 pandemic

August 17, 2023
Source: iStock

A majority of students cheated in online exams conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, a landmark study suggests.

A review of 19 surveys with more than 4,600 participants in total found that 54.7 per cent of respondents admitted cheating in online exams during the pandemic, compared with 29.9 per cent before coronavirus.

Phil Newton, lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Academic Ethics, said that, if anything, the true rate of cheating was likely to have been even higher.

“Everything we know about the way people respond to surveys would suggest it’s an underreport,” said Professor Newton, an expert in academic integrity based at Swansea University.

Campus spotlight: Understanding and protecting academic integrity 

Professor Newton and co-author Keioni Essex found that many students cheated simply because an easy opportunity presented itself.

“When studies ask students why…the most likely answer is, ‘we cheated because we could’,” said Professor Newton.

He thought that the switch to online testing – along with lax messaging and reinforcement by universities – may have strengthened some students’ notion that their university “doesn’t care” if they look up answers. Other learners may have justified doing it because everyone else was, and they didn’t want their peers to have an unfair advantage, he said.

Professor Newton – author of an influential 2018 study which concluded that as many as one in seven students worldwide were guilty of contract cheating – said that the issue had not gone away post-pandemic, especially with the introduction of artificial intelligence writing tools such as ChatGPT.

He said that universities would need to ramp up remote proctoring, use more in-person exams, and change the structure of exam questions to make it harder to cheat, but cautioned that none of these were a silver bullet, and that each came with its own complications.

“There are lots of things you can do, but once you turn those up to 10, you end up making life pretty miserable for the students who aren’t going to cheat in the first place,” he said.

He said he expected more universities would use vivas, which are already common in mainland Europe, in assessment.

“I suspect that is where we will end up,” he said. “But that will require quite a big shift in mindset.”


Print headline: Majority of students admit to Covid cheating

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Reader's comments (1)

Where is any kind of reliable, confirmed evidence? There is none here


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