The Art of Cheating on Tests and How to Make the Best out of it

03 The Art of Cheating on Tests and How to Make the Best out of it

by Maria Davou

Students cheat. I cheat, you cheat, they cheat. It’s a fact. Students cheat, we cheated as students. Teachers take measures, threaten, build walls, get vigilant but students keep cheating because students cheat. It’s cross-cultural and eternal: students have been cheating and will be cheating.

I don’t want my students to cheat. Not because I think it’s a big deal but because well, it is a big deal if you believe in an educational system that belongs to the learner and not to you, to me, the teacher. I don’t want them to cheat because I want them to feel and know that the journey towards knowledge is THEIRS. My mark, my evaluation, my grade is secondary to their sense of ownership of the target language.

Before everything though, we need to revisit our role as teachers. Why do we give tests to students? Remember, we are not psychometricians, we cannot really create valid and reliable tests. We do classroom assessment which has its constraints because we, as teachers, are constrained by our roles and knowledge. So we can use tests (and summative assessment in general) to promote what we do: to teach and help our students learn.

So here are the ways we’ve been using in our school to make students cheat less. Or hopefully help them feel that cheating makes no sense anymore in a culture of freedom and learning for learning’s sake.

Try them and let me know!

1) Open-book tests: ask your students to have their books open during the test. It takes the stress away. It helps them revise if they haven’t. It helps them LEARN if they didn’t study enough.
2) Create your own test: One week before the test, ask your students to send you one question they’d like to see in their test. Make a test with their own items/ questions.
3) Test-Retest: if they haven’t done that well the first time, give them the option of retaking the test. Tell them the best grade is the one that counts. This will give them motivation to study and do better.
4) Collaborative test: have them work in teams and solve the test problems together.
5) Give them choice: out of the x number of test items, ask them to answer x-3 questions. They can leave the ones they find more difficult out and focus on what they know. Later, you can see which ones your students chose not to answer and you can revisit these points in class.
6) Honor Code: Have them read aloud and sign a mini-contract before their test that says in their mother tongue that it’s them, the learners, who are in charge of their learning and that all the test answers are theirs because the knowledge is theirs. Teach them morality along with English (or any subject).
7) Promote formative assessment (Assessment for Learning) as your main assessment tool. This shows them what really matters: they are not percentages or grades, they are human beings in a process of acquiring new knowledge.
8) Include self-assessment: being able to spot what you know and what you need to learn is not only a very democratic process but most importantly, a tool that promotes metacognition. Knowing what you know, learning how to learn is a life skills that creates autonomous learners and social beings.

And oh well, if your students still cheat (and they will cheat less than before, trust me), don’t make a big deal out of it. Tell them that if this helps them LEARN, it’s ok. Show them what your focus is. And trust them. If you build a culture of trust, they will feel safe, they will trust you back and they will not want to betray this beautiful community where people trust each other, support each other, accept each other and LEARN