When a Closer Look at Potential Collusion Becomes Necessary

May 21, 2015 Sherry Jimenez

Dr. Sherry Jimenez is an ExamSoft client, and graciously agreed to share his experiences with implementing and using our testing and analytics platform with our blog audience.

Collusion is not a topic we like to discuss, but over the last 30 years some forms of cheating have increased at academic institutions and a majority of students have reported cheating to some degree during college (Bolin, 2004, McCabe, et al., 2001). To better understand this pervasiveness, let’s consider the three elements of the fraud triangle and their presence in the examination environment (Ramos, 2003). The first is incentive and can be characterized by the pressure a student feels with regard to competition in his/her field of study and eventual career placement. This results in the need to get better grades or higher test scores. Opportunity can be described as the temptation to gain an academic advantage due to the perception that no one is watching or “I will not be caught if I cheat.” The third element of the fraud triangle is rationalization characterized by justification and belief that “Everyone is doing it.”, therefore it is acceptable behavior.

Traditional proctoring and examinee guidelines such as, no cell phones, randomized seating, and color coded scratch paper to name a few are common prophylaxis. With the advent of online based assessment technology, safety precautions have been integrated to prevent access to the internet for information retrieval during exams. In the event collusion is suspected or potentially witnessed by a proctor, in addition to ExamSoft providing this “lockout” capability and the feature to randomize questions, there are data in ExamSoft you may find useful if delving into test taker behavior becomes necessary. Certainly, comparing the scores and answers of test takers of concern is a good starting point. Looking at the current as well as previous exams to identify any trends is recommended. A side by side comparison of each test takers’ navigation from one test question to another can also be a helpful tool. ExamSoft calls this report a “snapshot”. Snapshots can be generated by choosing the assessment whose navigational activity you would like to view and then clicking on the exam taker activity icon at the right. When the list of exam takers appears each will have a camera icon at the very right of their record; this will generate your snapshot view of navigational behavior. You can export these reports into Microsoft Excel or Word.

Following is an example of when you might need to use this feature. Let’s say potential collusion was reported by a proctor that warrants an investigation of two test takers’ exam scores and answer trends. If this information yields anything compelling (test takers who gave the same wrong answers and received the same score on multiple exams might be suspicious) looking further into their navigational behavior may be necessary to investigate whether they moved to the same question at the same time and if so, for how long? In the case of exams constructed with randomized questions, this information can be telling. Were there rapid scrolls to a question that the other was on at the same time? Were they on this question for the same period of time? This evidence alone may not be enough to prove collusive behavior, but it is an important feature to be aware of when doing a comprehensive investigation if one is warranted.

It is comforting to know that even today with the prevalence of computer-based testing; the traditional presence of proctors is a deterrent. Collusion is unfortunate but still a reality. We as institutions do not like to think about this aspect of assessment much less be in a situation where discovery is necessary. It is helpful however to know that our cutting edge assessment technology has this capability.


About the Author

Sherry Jimenez

Dr. Jimenez is the Associate Dean of Educational Assessment and Interprofessional Education at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine. A native of Upstate New York, she currently resides with her husband and youngest son in Carmel, Indiana. Dr. Jimenez has a passion for student success, is involved with various service/mission projects, and also enjoys biking, reading, and hiking with her family and two Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

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