Academic Honesty and Take-Home Exams

Take-home exams offer several advantages. Instructors do not have to use valuable class time or devote time outside of class to proctor exams. Within limits, students can choose the most convenient time to take the exam. They may also reduce anxiety for students since they can presumably take the exam in a setting of their choice.

In terms of academic honesty, however, take-home exams are problematic as they obviously offer students greater opportunity, and perhaps motivation, to cheat. This cheating not only ultimately disadvantages the cheaters, but other students may feel their hard work is not rewarded. Even a perception of cheating, which is more likely to occur if a class offers take-home exams, can harm student morale. Perhaps most importantly, at least one study (Haynie III) has indicated that frequent in-class assessments are more effective for learning retention than take-home exams.

Several forms of cheating are made easier if take-home exams are given:

  • Contract cheating – students pay a 3rd party to take exam (Clare et al.)
  • Help-seeking – other students “beg” them for help, so they help
  • Collaboration – students in the class plan to work on it together
  • Systematic – students acquire exam questions before or access information from unauthorized sources (Hellas et al.)

If take-home exams must be used, here are a few suggestions for preventing dishonesty:

  • Be clear about the rules for the take-home exam (including collaboration policies and what sources may be used).
  • Explain why you have set the rules you have.
  • Remind students of your and the College’s academic honesty policies. Also remind students that any exam is an act of trust between them and you and between them and their classmates.
  • Have students sign an honesty pledge prior to taking the exam. There is some evidence (McCabe et al.) that suggests that signing a pledge before taking an exam is an effective deterrent.
  • Set time limits for the exam such that it must be checked out and returned to limit contract cheating and help-seeking
  • Track when students take the exam to make unauthorized collaboration easier to detect.
  • Since the risk of cheating is increased when students feel “stuck,” offer students an “escape.” For instance, a chance to ask questions within the exam time or allow students to spend “points” to get hints on questions.

Online assessments are another alternative to written take-home exams. Online exams make it easier to implement certain measures to prevent cheating (Clare et al.):

  • Questions may be presented one at a time in a random order
  • Multiple choice answers may be scrambled so every student gets a different answer sequence
  • Students may be given different versions of the exam to increase the difficulty of collaboration

We recognize that every instructor needs to make the best choices for their particular class, but we urge them to consider these issues with take-home exams and consider alternatives. Academic integrity promotion including for online assessments is covered in this document: Academic Integrity Promotion Faculty Document

Clare, Joseph, et al. “Can We Detect Contract Cheating Using Existing Assessment Data? Applying Crime Prevention Theory to an Academic Integrity Issue.” International Journal for Educational Integrity, vol. 13, no. 1, 2017, p. 4, doi:10.1007/s40979-017-0015-4.

Haynie III, W. J. “Effects of Take-Home Tests and Study Questions on Retention Learning in Technology Education.” Journal of Technology Education, vol. 14, no. 2, 2003,

Hellas, Arto, et al. “Plagiarism in Take-Home Exams : Help-Seeking , Collaboration , and Systematic Cheating.” Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, 2017, pp. 238–43, doi:10.1145/3059009.3059065.

McCabe, D.L, Butterfield, K.D, Treviño, L.K. Cheating in College, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore. 2012.