COVID Exam Cheating

Gone are the days of hollowed out rubbers, false fronts on calculators or body art – COVID exam cheating is a whole new skill-set.


COVID Exam CheatingHere we are in December and its COVID online exam time again.  This is potentially the third time this year that students have been given some form of online, open book, or take-home examination so it will all go swimmingly!  So you would think.  COVID exam cheating is being raised to an artform.


Now, my students, have all started to log into Zoom – no, this is not for invigilation nor an attempt to stop COVID exam cheating.  Regardless of the number of PC screens I work with, I can’t sit for two hours and watch their individual cameras.  It is, as the students have been told, in case they have any blunders when trying to log in and open the question paper.  Message repeated eight times, now they’ve finally buggered off and started the exam…


Oh wait, the questions begin: “Sir, the answer paper document isn’t long enough for what I think I need to type”.  My reply, somewhat snippily delivered, “It’s a bloody Word document, keep typing and more pages will miraculously appear!”.  I’m waiting on my lunch to arrive, yet running back and forward to my home office in anticipation of some other ridiculous query via email.  Today I appear to be safe so far.


As I mentioned above, this is the third time this year we have had online exams due to COVID restrictions.  Same format each time.  Access timing to the question paper is limited, as is the time in which they can submit their exams.  We’re using TurnItIn[i] which will check for any signs of COVID exam cheating in terms of copying and pasting from the internet.  Again, third time this year we’ve done this!  Every written assessment the students complete are submitted to the TurnItIn system in an attempt to deter stupid COVID exam cheating.


For those of you in the know, you’ll appreciate that the similarity checker returns results within a few minutes, gracefully highlighting areas of text that appear to have come from somewhere other than the students own mind.  Those of you in the know will also appreciate that there are quite often some valiant, confident, and somewhat mindless acts of COVID exam cheating that occur!


Well knock me down with the proverbial feather…four of the little tykes have taken honesty and integrity at a level which is not merely an antithesis, but a disregard in world which honesty and integrity are a common feature for most of us.  I am not entirely heartless; two hours was definitely too short a timeframe for them to farm out the exam answering to a ghost writer or contract cheating facilitator.  Seriously, after three years at the university and goodness knows how many times submitting assessments, I’m spending my first hour allocated to marking just to report cheating cases.  Nor am I entirely stupid; I’m bracing myself for the excuses:

  • “I had a cold” – Kleenex and Vicks Vaporub.
  • “I don’t know how it happened” – you went to the internet, copied, pasted, and hoped for the best.
  • “I just returned from hospital and was running out of time” – no, your user profile logged into the system just before the exam and managed to hang around until the time was up…I’m fairly sure the NHS facilities don’t stretch to high speed guest Wi-Fi to facilitate that level of laptop use.


At least our institution limits COVID exam cheating as the students have to upload their answers within two hours of receiving the paper, other universities have allowed 24 hours for ‘take home exams’.


Popular methods COVID exam cheating

COVID Exam CheatingTake Home exam – What is wrong with taking it to someone else’s home?  Have a tutor on ‘standby.’ It could be virtual or in person. Well, the university never said you had to take it to your own home did they!

Reddit Discussion Board – The internet is full of people with nothing to do, and those who are innovative in their COVID exam cheating are only too happy to draw on their knowledge!  The Dean in one Scottish university has already had to email students telling them to stop posting their exam questions on Reddit and other discussion boards as this is actually COVID exam cheating!

COVID Consulting Group – Despite the sporadic closuring of Wetherspoons across the land, students have been very innovative in finding safe places to meet and share ideas on how to answer their exam questions.

Ghost Writer – Money makes the world go round, after all.  24 hours is more than enough time to simply commission someone to answer the exam for you… why waste your own time doing exams when someone who actually knows something can do it for you.


As for my institution, I can now waste three hours hoping that these little cheats turn up for their misconduct meeting next week.  At least the first years managed to do it properly (i.e. not get caught, or actually did it on their own) – this is third-year COVID exam cheating.  You’d think they may have mastered it by now?


[i] Turnitin is an originality checking and plagiarism prevention service that checks your writing for citation mistakes or inappropriate copying. When you submit your paper, Turnitin compares it to text in its massive database of student work, websites, books, articles, etc.  Whilst, depending on what you read, it may not be the most reliable of available systems, it is definitely the most commonly used.