University of Mannheim: Students cheat more often in online exams

The rapid introduction of the corona infection protection measures in spring 2020 seriously changed the university studies of around 2.9 million students in Germany. This was also evident in exams and exams, which were converted to online formats in many places. A Germany-wide survey of more than 1,600 students now shows what consequences this changeover had on the examination behavior of young people: The respondents report that they cheated significantly more often in online exams than in face-to-face exams in the 2020 summer semester.

Scientists from the Universities of Mannheim, Augsburg and Landau participated in the study. The results of the study were published under the direction of Dr. Stefan Janke (Chair of Educational Psychology at the University of Mannheim) in the journal Computers and Education Open and have been freely accessible since the beginning of November.

Students from various universities took part in the anonymous Germany-wide survey. A variety of subjects was represented – from medicine, law, economics and social sciences to computer science and technology. The result of the survey: 61.4 percent of those questioned who had taken an online exam in the critical period stated that they had used unauthorized aids or exchanged ideas with other students. Only 31.7 percent, however, admitted this with regard to exams that took place in person. “This indicates that the hasty switch to online exams in the 2020 summer semester had undesirable side effects for academic honesty at universities,” Janke notes.

“The results with regard to the students who had both online and face-to-face exams during the critical period are particularly exciting,” Janke continues. “On average, these students were examined more often in person, but they stated that they had cheated more frequently in the rarer online exams.”

“Academic fraudulent behavior is not a Corona-specific problem,” states Janke. The results of the current study can, however, generally stimulate you to think about alternative forms of examination. It is known from previous studies, for example, that students are more likely to cheat if closed question formats are chosen (e.g. multiple choice), in which only the correct result has to be given. Open examination formats that take into account not only the result but also the solution are therefore better.

But it also makes sense to think fundamentally about which behaviors are desirable in exams and which are undesirable. “In open book exams, for example, it is allowed to use additional materials,” says Janke. “This format challenges examiners and examinees alike, as the questions require more in-depth knowledge and transferability than is the case with traditional exams.”

Another possibility are collaborative exams, which even allow exchange between students. “This type of examination better reflects the requirements of later professional life, in which students should often be able to work in a team and work well with others,” adds Janke.