Learning & Development

How to Prevent Cheating on Workplace Exams

Tests and assessments aren’t just for students; they serve a crucial purpose for businesses, including keeping employees sharp and ensuring they’re up to date on the latest information. The results can also help business leaders make better, more informed decisions.


Source: Constantine Pankin / Shutterstock

Cheaters aren’t just tricking the system—they’re exposing themselves as disingenuous and untrustworthy. And once a business catches a cheater, it’s hard to entrust this individual with other tasks. Cheaters can cause a significant loss of revenue and information and in some industries pose a danger to safety. Some companies impose fines for breaking the rules, especially when people’s lives are at risk.

The good news is that there are only a handful of ways most people cheat. Once you learn about them, you can put steps in place to avoid them. Here are the main methods of cheating you should look out for.

1. Copying

Copying is the most straightforward way to cheat. All a cheater needs to do is look at someone else’s answers. No preparation or real skill is required—he or she just needs to have visibility of another candidate’s work.

The simplest way to prevent this is to separate workstations so that people can’t see each other’s answers. You can also have a supervisor present to watch out for wandering eyes, or you can randomize the order of the test questions so that no two are the same. That way, even if someone were to try to look at another candidate’s responses, it wouldn’t help.

2. Knowing the Questions in Advance

Foreknowledge of the test questions is typically acquired when questions leak or systems are hacked. Both scenarios require more stringent security measures in the form of both technology and HR practices.

Investing in secure cloud services that prevent local files or e-mails from leaving the organization is the first logical step to avoid this issue. It’s also worth spending time developing HR and security practices that reinforce the importance of confidentiality, including password processes and cybersecurity training. All these practices should be extended to translators, too, if the test is in different languages.

3. Outside Help During the Exam

It’s also possible for candidates to receive outside help during the exam, either via their phones or via the proctor covertly giving them the answers. Preventing both comes down to having good, trustworthy supervisors.

They should reinforce the rules on removing phones or switching applications on their computers. You could also have a supervisor watching over the room via video to avoid any cooperation between them and the test takers and use a secure browser for online tests to make it harder to access outside information.

4. Getting Someone Else to Do the Test for Them

Sending someone else to complete the test in your place is a bold move, but with the rise of online, digital testing has made it easier than ever. Nowadays, people can easily share their log-in details and have other people take their test for them. This might seem innocuous, but it invalidates overall results and renders the test pointless.

For in-person tests, supervisors can check IDs when test takers arrive to take the exam or via a webcam. For online proctoring, it’s a little more complicated but not impossible with tools including single sign-on private browsers and keystroke monitoring. Other measures include more frequent testing (to make finding a proxy test taker harder) and asking employees a personal question only they would know, like how much their bonus was last year.

5. Tampering with Results

The most impactful way to cheat is to change the results after the test has been taken. This is usually executed via a vulnerability in the test delivery or storage system, which allows employees to improve their answers or their score.

It’s a powerful way to cheat and can be hard to trace. But if you use a robust delivery and results platform with high-security standards, along with off-site storage of physical papers or an online cloud system for digital ones, tampering will become more difficult. Other useful measures include limiting access permissions, a clear audit trail, and controlling when results leave the system.

6. Cheat Sheets

Cheat sheets are any sources of information needed for the exam—think crucial information written out on notes or on the person’s body or calculators, books, phones, or computers.

Cheat sheets can be eliminated in a variety of ways, such as making the test open book. This makes sense if people need to access reference material while they’re doing their job and still leaves room to ask questions that test genuine understanding and for which no study aid is going to help. If this isn’t an option, online tests should be conducted on secure browsers that prevent and record any attempt to access outside Web addresses during the test.

Overall, most cheating can be avoided by ensuring adequate and thorough supervision, conducting more frequent testing, and using a secure platform. But the most effective way to decrease cheating overall is to create a culture where employees can ask for help if they’re struggling and offer the opportunity to retake tests if they underperform.

There might always be one or two cheaters, but overall, the more robust the testing environment, the greater the chance of catching them in the act.

John KleemanJohn Kleeman is the Executive Director and Founder of Questionmark. He is one of the pioneers of digital assessments and has 30 years of experience in the industry. He writes and speaks regularly on assessments, compliance, and data privacy; is involved in several assessment standards initiatives; and is on the board of directors of the Association of Test Publishers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *