Fraud-free exams in the time of remote learning

Anuradha C

Classes on video calls. Homework as Word documents or PowerPoint slides. Teacher-student discussions on chat messaging apps. So what next? Online examinations, of course!

Conducting examinations in person with direct supervision is a challenge in itself. With every passing year, students keep getting more creative in their copying techniques. Then how is it practically possible to achieve fraud-free examinations when conducted remotely? Proctored examinations are one way to deal with the problem. Let’s find out how they work.

A proctor is nothing but a supervisor. So in effect, we are just talking about supervised examinations. But the trick is to manage the supervision from a distance. With a careful mix of technology and human effort, reasonably effective supervision is possible.

There have been other methods of unregulated examinations conducted in the past. One popular type is the “Open book exam”. The questions are handed over to the students and they are allowed to bring limited amount of reference material into the examination room. The nature of the questions would be probing and open-ended, so a direct copy from the reference material isn’t possible. The idea of allowing books is to save the students unnecessary hassles in mugging ready-reckoner information such as conversion tables, formulae or statistics. This method works well when the objective of the exam is to test the student’s problem-solving ability, given the relevant input information. This method is very prevalent in competitive exams and IT company recruitments.

However, mid-term and end-term school examinations for younger children serve a slightly different purpose. School exams are meant to gauge the child’s ability to understand and reproduce the subject matter, with reasonable accuracy and memory recall. The children are not yet intellectually evolved to deal with complex, open-ended problems. Hence, open book exams may not be appropriate in this case.

How do proctored examinations work?
Proctored examinations are essentially online software applications that a student can open in a browser, either on their PC or mobile phone. They are pre-configured to allow access only to designated devices of students and invigilators. Each individual exam software tool may come with specialized features, but the broad concept of how proctored online exams work is the same.

• To begin with, the student’s identity is ascertained using their enrolment number, phone number and email ID. It is tied up with the gadget to be used to take the exam.
• A predefined set of instructions is circulated to students, and even mock drills would need to be conducted.
• The students will get a secure link to the exam portal at the designated examination time.
• Verbal explanatory answers, mathematical calculations, graphs and charts – answers can be presented in any format, as per the need of the subject matter.
• Invigilators are constantly available online for supervision and assistance.
• Once the answers are complete, the student response gets submitted to the examination portal. The corresponding exam evaluators are the only people authorized to view the student responses.

Techniques to prevent cheating
The examination software portal would have strict vigilance techniques built into it. The exam in progress will simply terminate or show appropriate warning messages depending on the anomalies detected in the student’s environs during the running time of the exam. Some such scenarios include:
• A live chat session with a remote invigilator begins at the start of the exam session. The invigilator may supervise at real time, or analyze the video footage at a later time for abnormal behaviour.
• Thorough checks to ascertain the student’s identity are performed before the student starts with the exam. This prevents impersonation.
• When the student switches his/her PC or mobile screen from the exam page to another screen, the exam session immediately terminates.
• Microphones fixed in the student’s location pick up any third party voices, audio prompts. So no oral help can be sought by the student.
• The exam process is entirely time restricted – sometimes section-wise, sometimes even question-wise. So there is no possibility of passing on questions to others and receiving external help.
• Sophisticated facial recognition tools are employed to track the student’s eye movements. So if the student tries to look at an external reference, the warning system gets flagged.
• Randomized questions from a larger question bank are served to the student. So there is very little chance of getting feedback from other students who may have taken the test earlier.
• The student’s browser window gets locked, so no other external websites can be opened in parallel. Nor can any screenshots be captured of the questions onscreen.

Proctored examinations are already in use in a limited manner. Schools in metros such as Bangalore and Hyderabad have deployed this technique with a great degree of success and satisfaction. However, being a new concept, there are some teething troubles that students and teachers face. Adopting the technique on a wider scale across the country would require a standardized software application available free of cost, which is authorized by the state and central education boards.

Hybrid learning models – An optimum mix of face-to-face and online education – are here to stay, even after the Covid pandemic becomes a distant memory in India and elsewhere in the world. The idea of an entirely virtual school, with no physical infrastructure involved is also doing the rounds. Popular online learning tutorial apps which are a rage in India now, are a testimony to this fact. If the various governments bring in more flexibility and choice to school administrations and parents alike, a portion of the school education process can permanently shift online, examinations being just one part of it. However, the non-academic aspects that students experience and enjoy within the ramparts of their school buildings are precious – running amok along the school corridors, sharing lunch breaks in the school grounds, getting singled out and punished in class, the dreaded school uniform, the odd kind word from a favourite teacher, the wild relief as you exit your examination hall…

A teacher friend of mine, who has been visiting her school even during the pandemic, sans the children, described it succinctly. The school building without the kids is like a body without its soul.

The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at

[email protected].

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