Your partials, on site or to take away?


Faced with the current confinement, there is uncertainty as to the future of the exams. Universities like the Sorbonne have been forced to postpone all their exams, while others, like Dauphine, are exploring online solutions.

In this period of crisis, reinventing evaluation becomes a necessity, but institutions and teachers sometimes lack benchmarks. To see more clearly, here is a review of academic studies on the subject.

Various formats

Let us first point out that over the past twenty years, examinations have taken on more and more diverse forms. Literature classifies them into four categories:

  • the classic exam (called “closed-book” ), where the student must solve a problem or answer a series of questions in a limited time, alone facing his copy, and without any material help;
  • the exam accompanied by a memory aid (known as a “cheat sheet” ) where the teachers authorize a single sheet of paper (provided, or prepared by the students beforehand). It is used to test the ability to apply the technical aspects of a subject without having to learn certain formulas or definitions;
  • the open book exam (called “open-book” ) where students can bring and use any medium. This format is frequently used to encourage creativity and critical thinking;
  • homework (called “take home”) which takes place without any restriction of support and from a distance. This test generally assesses the ability to seek and use information and to provide structured arguments.

Despite all these innovations, students generally continue to prefer the traditional format, even if they find it more stressful. This is mainly due to the fact that teachers’ expectations in open book examinations are considered too vague, and often much higher than in closed book.

Studies also show that the possibility of freely bringing in materials reassures students to the point of making them prepare their exams less well , and therefore spend more time looking for information. That said, on average and with the same result, student achievement tends to be of the same level , regardless of the type of exam.

If the first three are usually synchronous exams (all students take the test at the same time), homework is asynchronous, which obviously raises the question of cheating – and often worries teachers.

Risks of cheating to identify

Let us first recall that student cheating is a vast problem which is not only linked to exams and takes extremely diverse forms.

In their numerous studies on the subject , Donald McCabe and his team have shown that this could range from copying the neighbor’s responses to plagiarism from online sources. Since the closed book exams are the historical evaluation mode, and still dominant today, most cheating methods have adapted to it.

But new strategies are emerging with the diversification of exams. For example, there has been a steady increase in “collaborative student work even when the teacher does not allow it”, from 14% in the 1960s to 51% in the 2000s.

In their study of an online take home review, Hellas and other researchers identified three main cheating strategies:

  • some students who will seek help from their classmates, then rephrase their answers to try to go unnoticed;
  • students coming together to do the exam together, in a form of “collaborative cheating”, and are sometimes not aware of cheating;
  • the creation of false accounts or other “systematic cheating” recognized by the students themselves as being fraudulent.

Many studies point out that whether or not you believe that what they were doing is cheating is decisive . Therefore, teachers and administrative staff should pay particular attention to these differences of opinion or understanding.

For example, a student who did not think that collective collaboration on individual work was really a cheat was much more inclined to do so (around 30%).

Choice Questions

First of all, note that there is no single solution, because the format of the exam depends on the educational objective, institutional constraints and the content of the course.

That said, if the teachers develop their exams according to their pedagogy, they also do so in dialogue with other stakeholders: administration, hierarchy, accreditation bodies, etc.

If you hesitate between the different types of exams, three main questions arise:

  • What am I trying to assess? On this point, academic studies often focus on four main aspects: knowledge acquisition, mastery of knowledge, critical perspective and creativity.
  • What are the logistical constraints? With, in these pandemic periods, the question of face-to-face mode or distance tests.
  • What are the potential cheating strategies and my ability to counter or limit them?

We offer the decision tree below, which is necessarily a bit simplistic, to help orient yourself between the different options:

Author Bio: Yoann Bazin is a Lecturer in Management Sciences at École de Management de Normandie – UGEI

This article was co-written with Victor Nouzarede and Guillaume Laurent, students of the Master “Strategy and Inclusive Growth Management” of EM Normandie.