How to Catch Students Cheating

Eight Methods:Preparing to Monitor an ExamLooking for Cheating Students During an ExamWatching Students’ Use of Technology During an ExamCatching Students Cheating on Written AssignmentsObserving Students Outside of ClassCatching Cheating Students in Online CoursesConfronting StudentsChanging Your Assessments

Academic cheating and plagiarism have increased dramatically as students struggle to keep up with expectations and demands of their parents or school, financial aid requirements, work schedules and so on.[1] Furthermore, the advent of new technologies makes it much easier for students to cheat than ever before. Discovering academic dishonesty depends on your awareness of the classroom, students’ interactions with each other, and other strategies.

Method 1
Preparing to Monitor an Exam

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    Always be in control of the classroom. Being vigilant in the classroom is the best way to catch students cheating and to prevent cheating from happening in the first place. State your expectations at the beginning of the class and before the exam.
    • Make sure your students know the penalties for academic dishonesty.
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    Arrange the testing environment. Arrange desks in the room to spread out students if possible. Alternately, assign seats to students so that they do not sit at their usual desk. Students will not be able to sit next to a friend with whom they plan to cheat.
    • Ask students to store backpacks, books, or binders under their chairs.
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    Use multiple proctors. If your test environment is a large space, such as an auditorium, consider having an assistant or two help you monitor the students during the exam. These individuals can roam around the room and cover more ground than a single person can.[2]
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    Greet students as they come into the classroom. Look at each student as he or she comes through the door and say hello. Keep an eye on students who look fidgety or nervous.[3]
    • Glance at their arms, hands and hats to make sure there aren’t any notes written on those areas. Be wary of students who are constantly pulling their long sleeves down to cover more of their arms.
    • Keep in mind that many students are anxious when they come into an exam. Don’t automatically assume that someone is cheating because he looks nervous.

Method 2
Looking for Cheating Students During an Exam

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    Be vigilant in auditorium settings. If your class is in a large auditorium, it can be very easy for students to see exams of people around them. If there is enough room, have students space themselves out so that there are empty seats in between students.
    • Monitor the students carefully by walking around the classroom throughout the exam.
    • Use at least two different versions of the exam so that people sitting next to each other do not have the same version.[4]
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    Carefully monitor students during tests. Keep your eyes on the students for the entire exam. Watch for signs of cheating. Someone might look up at the ceiling pretending to work out an answer, but they are really trying to see a classmate’s paper. Others might look down at their lap constantly, either trying to see their notes poking out of their bag, or at their phone in their lap. [5]
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    Don’t let a student distract you. A student might come up to the front of the class with a question, which will take your attention away from your classroom monitoring. This gives the other students a few moments to pass notes, look at their phones or otherwise engage in cheating behavior.[6]
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    Beware of students sending signals. If you notice a student continuously coughing, tapping the bench or their foot, or whispering, they may be cheating.
    • Students might have different signs for different answers; for example, on a multiple choice test, if the answer is A, they might tap their pencil. If the answer is B, they might shuffle their test around, and so on.
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    Do not allow any whispering during an exam. Whispering to another student is usually a pretty clear sign that someone is cheating or trying to cheat. Tell students that there is no talking allowed during the exam.
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    Watch for students writing large letters on their exams. On a multiple choice test, some students might write a large letter A (or whatever the answer is) next to a question, so that their answer is easy to read from the vantage point of another student. You can prevent this if you use different versions of the test, for example, and make questions 4 and 5 multiple choice on one test and questions 2 and 3 multiple choice on the other version.
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    Look for writing on the student’s body. One of the most longstanding methods of cheating is to write answers on a student’s hand or arm, in between fingers, or on another body part.
    • Many students are quite savvy about this strategy, bringing alcohol wipes to remove pen ink from their skin before turning in their test.
    • Students, especially females, might try writing notes on their legs. They will then wear a skirt of a particular length that covers the writing but that can be inched upward to reveal the notes. Teachers should be wary of challenging a student who has writing on their legs; a female student might cite harassment if you are looking at her legs.[7]
    • Look for writing on clothing. Many students will wear hats to an exam and will write notes on the bill of the hat. Ask students to remove hats or turn them around so that you foil their attempts at reading their notes. Other articles of clothing are often used in cheating, such as scarves, sweaters, coats, sunglasses, and so on.
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    Look out for notes stored in or on objects. Some students have used rubber bands to store notes. They will stretch out the rubber band and write notes so they are just barely legible. When the rubber band is unstretched, it will look like it has black lines on it. During an exam, the student will stretch and unstretch the rubber band to get the answers.[8]
    • Other students have been known to write notes on very small pieces of paper and store them rolled up in a pen with a clear body.
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    Be wary of students who use the bathroom during an exam. A student may ask to leave the class to use the bathroom. This person might be using that time to check their phone for notes or otherwise look at notes. Before allowing a student to go to the bathroom, have him or her leave his phone in the testing room (make sure you see with your own eyes that it was left in the room).

Method 3
Watching Students’ Use of Technology During an Exam

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    Establish a no-phone policy. Mobile phones are capable of storing a lot of information that is easily accessible to the user. They can also be hard to monitor. Establish a policy stating that mobile phones are not allowed in the classroom. Strictly enforce the policy so that students are not tempted to use this method.
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    Be vigilant with calculators. Many calculators, especially more advanced ones, are easily programmable. Students can store formulas and equations that enable them to cheat on exams. Carefully monitor use of calculators or prohibit use of them altogether.
    • Another option is to ask your department to buy simple calculators that can be used for exams. This way, students will not need to bring their own.[9]
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    Prohibit headphones during class. Some students might load an audio file of themselves reading notes and listen to this during an exam. Prohibit the use of headphones and watch for mp3 players or other devices that might be used to transmit information. [10]
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    Use a small cell phone detection device. This device is usually small enough to fit discreetly in your pocket and will vibrate when it detects any nearby cellular use.
    • Some cell phone detectors are sensitive enough to allow teachers to walk around the classroom and identify active cell phone use based on proximity.

Method 4
Catching Students Cheating on Written Assignments

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    Know your students' writing styles. As a teacher, you will likely be able to recognize the student’s writing style. Watch for changes in writing ability, tone, and overall quality. Trust your instinct when reading student work. If something looks inauthentic, it probably is.
    • Search online for suspect passages from your student’s paper. Oftentimes, you’ll find the exact same passage in Wikipedia or another website.
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    Use an anti-plagiarism checker. There are several programs that will detect plagiarism in written work by comparing the paper with other papers in the database and on the internet. Ask students to submit papers to online programs such as or SafeAssign.
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    Invite the student to your office to discuss the paper. A student’s paper, written excellently and eloquently, might raise your suspicions if that student does not typically perform so well in class. Invite your student to visit your office hours to talk about the paper. If the student wrote the paper, he should be able to talk intelligently about the topic. If he didn’t write it, there will likely be less confident discussion of the subject.[11] You still may not have proof of cheating, however, but the student might recognize that you’re aware of their scheme.
    • Many students buy papers from “paper mills” or “essay mills,” which are websites and other services which sell essays for a fee. If your student’s paper is phenomenal, he might have purchased the essay from one of these services. It is difficult to prove this, however, so proceed with caution.

Method 5
Observing Students Outside of Class

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    Listen to hallway conversations. Students generally talk to their friends about tests and even about the answers to tests.
    • For example, keep an eye on students who leave your first period class after a test. If they walk a little with a second period student, they may be sharing answers or passing cheat sheets.
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    Sign up for the class social media group under an assumed name. Some students will create a private group on Facebook or Google for the class, using it to exchange notes. If the class is large enough, you might be able to sign up for the class posing as a student, using an assumed name.[12]
    • Some course management systems, such as Blackboard, have an option of letting students email each other without the instructor seeing the emails. Change the preferences so that you also see the emails that students send out through the system.
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    Be cautious with favorite students. Often, students might pretend that they are interested in the class, visiting you in office hours and engaging with the class material. These students might butter you up so that you don’t suspect them of cheating because you perceive them to be good students.[13]
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    Protect your physical and digital spaces. Do not allow students to be in your classroom when you are not there. Lock filing cabinets and desk drawers to prevent students from looking at tests, and watch for this behavior when you are in the classroom as well.
    • Create and memorize complex passwords for computer and grade book log-ins; do not write this information on paper.

Method 6
Catching Cheating Students in Online Courses

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    Announce academic dishonesty policies for online courses. For many students, the online course environment may be less clear in terms of what constitutes academic dishonesty. Make sure you establish academic dishonesty policies for your students and give clear examples about what constitutes cheating in an online class.[14]
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    Try webcam monitoring. Some online courses will require that students use a webcam when they take an exam. This ensures that the right person is taking the test, and that students are not collaborating with each other on an exam. This might also reduce the chance of cheating.
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    Try signature tracking. Signature tracking is another way to monitor online course participation. This requires a student to verify his identity with photo identification and his unique typing pattern.[15]
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    Administer exams at testing centres. Some online courses might require students to take exams at a testing centre so that they are monitored and restricted from cheating.[16]
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    Use an anti-plagiarism checker. There are several programs that will detect plagiarism in written work by comparing the paper with other papers in the database and on the internet. Ask students to submit papers to online programs such as or SafeAssign.

Method 7
Confronting Students

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    Have proof of the cheating. It can be difficult to provide concrete evidence of cheating, but it is important to make sure you have proof before you make any allegations.
    • If you found plagiarism in your student’s paper, try to locate the original passage by searching online.
    • Photocopy a random sample of exams or major assignments before returning them to students. A common temptation for cheaters is submitting a modified exam for a regrade, especially if they are close and want to be moved across a grade boundary.
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    Confiscate notes or other material. If you catch a student using notes to cheat on a test, gather these as soon as you discover it. Do so discreetly so as to not disrupt your other students.[17]
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    Ask a student to reproduce test answers in your office. When you suspect someone of cheating, confront him after the exam. If he is not forthcoming about cheating, ask him to reproduce the answers for the exam. If he is unable to do so, he may have cheated.
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    Be familiar with your school’s academic dishonesty policies. Check with your school before applying penalties for cheating. Doing so without following established procedures can put you at risk for legal action.

Method 8
Changing Your Assessments

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    Create two or more versions of the exam. To prevent students from looking at each other’s papers during an exam, create two versions of the test. Pass them out so that the first student in the row has Test A, the next student has Test B, the third student has Test A, and so on.
    • Alternately, use the same version of the exam but photocopy them on different coloured paper and tell the students that there are two versions.
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    Ask for outlines and rough drafts. Students might try to download entire essays or research papers from the internet, or they might have friends who’ve completed the assignment in a different term. If you ask for outlines and rough drafts of their papers, they will need to demonstrate their process of writing, which helps curb some plagiarism and cheating.[18]
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    Allow students to bring in a cheat sheet. Nip cheating in the bud by allowing them to cheat, at least by bringing an index card sized cheat sheet to the exam. This may not entirely eliminate cheating, but it will likely reduce some cheating, keep in mind that when using this method you must monitor your students sharply, as two or more index cards can be disguised as one.
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    Design collaborative assignments. Students often prefer doing team-oriented projects and other assignments, collaborating with each other, instead of working individually. If your assignments emphasize collaboration, students may be less prone to cheating.[19]
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    Change assessments to emphasize subject mastery. Many students claim that they cheat because they worry about their grade. Learning the subject is the lesser concern. If you emphasize that mastering the subject is the important part, not the grade, students may be less inclined to cheat.[20]
    • Portfolios are often a good way for students to demonstrate mastery, as they can show how they have grasped concepts and improved over time.


  • Have a climate of caring in your classroom. Get to know each student by name, if feasible, and get to know their interests. Some studies have shown that if students feel like the teacher cares about them, they will be more invested in the class and won’t be as likely to cheat.[21]
  • Compare student answers. If people sitting near each other have exactly the same wrong answers, they may be cheating. This, however, is not foolproof, and should be considered only when it occurs in multiple instances and/or along with other suspicious behavior. It is often best to give the students the benefit of the doubt the first time then wait to see if this behavior happens again.
  • Don't just assume that someone is cheating because they are looking round the room. Some students do this to collect their thoughts.


  • Don't immediately suspect your students of cheating. Some students get nervous and twitchy when taking an exam. Other students might just need to look around the room to collect their thoughts.
  • Teach students about academic dishonesty at the beginning of the term.

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Categories: Classroom Management and Student Conduct