Cheating negatively impacts students, instructors, and programs but what can you, as an instructor, do? Develop better tests!

College instructors often have little training in creating tests. They tend to fall back on traditional testing methods familiar to them from their own education. For many, this predates the modern, online world where basic facts are available at the click of a mouse.

Today’s “digital native” students have the vast resources of the internet at their disposal, and they’re not afraid to use those resources during a test. Even as higher education moves more toward online delivery, many instructors retain tests developed for a closed, in-person environment.

Good news! That’s a solvable problem. With a little bit of guidance, you can improve course exams to combat cheating, increase student engagement, and measure learning outcomes more effectively. The tips below can get you started.

Tip 1: Conduct an Assessment Audit

It’s easy to be tempted to continue using the same test items you’ve painstakingly developed over the years. You don’t have to “waste” that work—many items may only require small tweaks to adapt them for an online environment:

  • Reword or remove items that be easily answered with an internet search.
  • Present questions about course material using different words or in different scenarios than your lecture or the textbook uses.
  • Avoid “all of the above,” “none of the above,” and “A and B” as answer choice options—make students select more than one answer choice to get the question correct by using an alternate item type like multi-select.

Tip 2: Mine Learning Outcomes and Accreditation Standards

After you’ve adjusted existing items, consider adding new ones. Your department’s defined learning outcomes are a good starting point. Another source for accredited programs is the accrediting body’s standards.

Tip 3: Develop Items Using Higher Cognitive Complexity

Finally, consider increasing the cognitive complexity (Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK), Bloom’s Taxonomy) of the items in your test. For open-book, online midterms and finals in higher ed courses, developing items for DOK 3 (Webb’s)/Analysis (Bloom’s) or above minimizes the likelihood of finding the correct answer online.

Bonus Tip

Consider developing a test blueprint for higher-stakes tests, such as midterms or finals. Blueprints help you analyze your testing needs and develop effective items.


To paraphrase one of Murphy’s Laws, “If you make a test cheat-proof, someone will just make a better cheater.” However, following these 3 tips can make your online exams “cheat-resistant.”