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The Most Common Ways Students Cheat in Remotely Proctored Exams

05 Apr 2023

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Method 1: Using Outside Resources

When it comes to candidates using outside resources to cheat in remotely proctored exams, (that is, using anything not allowed to be accessed or used during an exam,) there is a misconception among some candidates that this is a very easy thing to do.

While scribbled notes snuck into exam halls are likely as old as exam culture itself and combated with a mix of deterrents including physical proctors, the truth is that remotely proctored exams can be just as protected against cheating attempts too.

When it comes to the question of which is best: online or test center proctoring, there is a myriad of reasons why an organization might choose one over the other. But in terms of exam security, the answer is the same for both: there is no silver bullet when it comes to test cheating. Rather, all test cheating safeguards should include 3 critical elements to give exams the best chance of remaining secure:

  1. DETER: Actions to deter students or candidates from considering test cheating.
  2. PREVENT: Actions to prevent or make it harder for students or candidates to cheat at tests and exams.
  3. DETECT AND RESPOND: Actions to identify if test fraud is happening and respond if it does happen

Learn more about this by watching our recent webinar recording: An Ounce of Prevention: Proctoring and Test Security in 2023

Regardless of how well-protected remotely proctored exams can be, it doesn’t stop some candidates from believing that easily cheating test proctoring methods is a simple thing to do, and below are a few common examples of outside resources used for cheating.

Examples of outside resources used for cheating

Online search engines and databases

As mentioned above, with online proctored exams came a new method of test cheating: Google. Candidates who are committed to cheating might try to surreptitiously open a new tab and gain assistance from the web, or these days, perhaps use the ever-extraordinary ChatGPT. 

One of the most useful tools for helping manage this is using a locked-down browser, which, among other things can make it difficult to run other programs, use the print screen command, and identify if you’re using a virtual machine. In a nutshell, it renders a device (mostly) only usable for an exam while the exam is in session.


Whether in a remotely proctored exam or snuck into an exam hall, smartphones changed the game when it comes to cheating. As with all cheating attempts, the use of phones can only be combated by employing the three safeguard elements as mentioned above, with proctoring being a useful facet of that. 

Textbooks and notes

Attempting to sneak in notes and textbooks into exams—be that physical halls or remote exams—is nothing new in the landscape of cheating, and while it might seem like a very easy method of cheating in a remote setting, the actuality is that it can still be deterred with a holistic anti-cheating approach outlined by the organization. 

Pre-written essays and assignments

It’s never possible to guarantee that any one thing can prevent test cheating, no matter the method of cheating that’s deployed. Using a pre-written or written-for-you assignment for use in an exam is a common means of attempting to cheat, but one that can be better safeguarded against with a mix of deterrents (like a clear policy on repercussions for being caught cheating), tools like proctoring solutions and continually updating exam questions. 

Preventing the fraudulent use of outside resources in exams

Methods for preventing cheating come in many forms and typically should be considered as part of a holistic approach as we’ve mentioned several times now.

For tackling the use of outside resources during an exam, a useful tool to help combat potential cheating will be in using a comprehensive proctoring tool. This can help identify a range of behaviors that might need reviewing and with automated record and review options, this also allows for an exam to be analyzed after it has taken place.

Similarly, when it comes to the ever-present risk of students simply opening up a new browser to search for answers, platforms such as Questionmark’s online assessment solution offer a locked-down browser, resisting a student from navigating away from their exam environment without altering the AI system. 

Method 2: Collaborating with Others

While collaboration is usually a human skill that’s applauded and encouraged, in the case of cheating it can be an especially troubling issue. Whether it’s sharing exam questions to give someone an unfair advantage ahead of the exam or attempting to take an exam as a unit, the ‘collaborative cheater’ is in some ways more problematic than a lone individual. Research has shown that when an environment of cheating becomes normalized, it’s also likely to propagate.

Below are some ways in which collaborative remote cheating can occur.

Sharing answers with others

Taking an exam and sharing the answers with peers has long been a method of cheating tests and that’s not changed with the dawn of digital exams. As with all cheating, tackling it takes a multi-faceted approach, but a useful tool for this particular issue is in using randomized questions so that each batch of candidates is faced with a new and random selection of questions that can’t be predicted. 

Taking the exam together

Having a second person hidden from view in order to assist with an exam is a real challenge with remote exams and requires a strong anti-cheating policy and deterrents in order to discourage a test taker long before an exam is ever sat.

Using communication tools to share information

From Whatsapp groups to exam question sharing on TikTok, the ability for messaging systems to be misused is not an unknown challenge. With properly implemented proctoring technology, along with all other deterrent tools at an organization’s disposal, however, a candidate’s willingness to share content during an exam can be greatly reduced.

Preventing collaborative cheating in exams

Test cheating is the unfortunate result of people having the opportunity, the incentive and the ability to rationalize what they’re doing as ‘not so bad’. While great technology (like online proctoring and locked-down browsers) can be a fantastic deterrent, preventing exam cheating takes much more than just tech-based approaches. From question design, communication on why test cheating is more than just flunking, and setting up test takers for success from the start, organizations need a full approach when tackling this area of learning and development.  

Method 3: Using Technology to Cheat

As with all progress, there’s a tendency to shy away from it given its potential to be misused. Technology often suffers from this and it’s true that, when related to cheating, technology can be misused. From sharing your screen to allow someone else to see questions to using software emulators, the ways and means a candidate might employ technology to cheat a remotely proctored exam are numerous, and below are some examples of that. 

Screen sharing and remote control tools

Sharing screens or otherwise employing remote tools to cheat in proctored exams is a fairly common cheating style and typically managed with locked-down browser tools. 

Virtual machines and software emulators

Using a virtual machine and accessing a student or candidate’s keyboard to help them answer questions is a big threat employed by proxy testers. It is a difficult type of test cheating to manage and requires a concentrated effort from the organization in question to make the consequences known long before an exam even occurs. For example, many of the Varsity Blues students who had tests taken for them (during an in-person exam) via proxy test takers were found out and expelled from their colleges, a stark warning to others who may be considering a similar approach.  

Mobile devices and wearable technology

Smartphones are some of the most relied-on methods for cheating and seen as an easy option for cheating test proctoring software. Candidates might share questions via messages, or ask for help from social media groups—or simply use a search engine to find an answer. This is all possible of course, but with the correct deterrents and tools, like remote proctoring solutions, the ability for it to succeed can be reduced. 

Preventing the fraudulent use of technology in exams

Having all the necessary safeguards in place including clear communication on consequences, understanding the motivations, and of course, using proctoring solutions, are all core ways organizations can better protect test integrity and prevent instances of cheating.  

Proctoring Technologies for Preventing Cheating

Remote proctoring solutions are useful in helping uphold exam integrity. Live online proctoring, sometimes known simply as ‘remote proctoring’, is a common proctoring solution adopted by organizations worldwide that allows a proctor to use the candidate’s webcam and audio functions to monitor their behavior and stop an exam should they deem it necessary. 

Another popular method is automated proctoring. Sometimes called AI proctoring, automated solutions such as our Record and Review proctoring tools are extremely helpful in aiding a human reviewer during and after an exam. The automated system observes and records the exam session on video, for potential review later.

The system also flags potential anomalies, such as a second person being on screen, for a proctor or other individual to review at a later time, rather than needing to trawl through an entire recording. This method makes the exam much more resistant to cheating than it would otherwise be. 

Of course, there’s also the traditional method of onsite proctoring for physical exams too.

Frequently Asked Questions

The truthful answer about cheating is it can only be reduced and managed, but not eliminated. It’s why it’s so essential to tackle test cheating and fraud with an entire fleet of tools and deterrents, not just rely on the one proctoring boat.

Students and candidates can be remarkably creative in their methods of cheating and it’s never more true than with the act of hiding notes for use during an exam. Hiding items just out of sight, or writing notes on arms is always a challenge no matter where an exam takes place. What’s certain however, is that if caught the exam will be over and likely more serious consequences for the candidate will follow. Articulating this long before the exam doors open is key to preventing the behavior long before it starts.

Modern proctoring solutions mean that many forms of pre-recorded content should be very easily flagged during an exam.

Yes. But the nature of these questions will be limited to technical issues directed at the proctor. A student cannot request information on the test answers and nor can they ask other remote devices without this being noticed by the proctor and the AI assistance tools.

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