Can An Online Exam Detect Cheating?

As COVID has pushed many more of us to an online world and we find our classrooms through the screens of our devices, we may start to wonder how easy it is to cheat the system. Most of us probably wouldn’t risk cheating on one of our online exams, but there are always those that will. Of course, the problem is that if some people choose to cheat, the integrity of the education becomes compromised and the results skewed. It would be very unfair if those dishonest few were able to achieve above those following the rules. There is a common misconception that it is easier to cheat in online exams with their remote access and lack of supervision. Perhaps this was true many moons ago, but these days, it is technology, not a human, that keeps us in check.

Online exams can detect cheating through the use of proctor software. These systems are designed to stop cheating through biometrics, webcams and microphones, plagiarism detection, IP tracking, keystroke recognition, monitoring the opening of additional web tabs and recording and taking snapshots.

But is there a way around these smart systems where cheating in online exams can still run rife?

How Do Online Exams Detect Cheating?

Cheating during online exams can be detected through the employment of AI proctoring technology, but there are also less technologically advanced methods used to monitor and deter cheating.

Proctor software can prove costly for some online educationalists and they, therefore, choose to turn to simpler and more traditional methods to detect cheating online. Without the installation of special software, online cheating can be prevented by instituting time limits. This can apply per question and to the exam in its entirety. By adding a time limit to each question, the candidate does not have time to research the answer or ask a third party for assistance. Invigilators can also monitor if a question has been changed or prevent backtracking to stop students from changing their answers. To thwart students from sharing exams after completion, educational institutions might have all candidates take the exam simultaneously. Examiners are also able to look for cheating in the good old-fashioned way and see where students have answered the same answers correctly and incorrectly.

However, if institutions choose to invest in proctoring software, these clever systems are able to monitor suspicious behavior in all kinds of ways.

How Do Online Exams Use Biometrics To Detect Cheating?

One of the most common ways students cheat is by having someone else take the exam or test on their behalf. Proctor software is able to use face and voice recognition to prevent this from occurring. When students sign up for a class, they are required to present identification in the form of both visual and audio. When it comes time to take an online exam, the student’s webcam and device’s audio are used to match the student against the recorded identification kept on file. Some AI technology can do this, while other systems employ humans to make sure the student presenting themselves is the same one registered for the course.

Most systems will also require an identification card that the student will need to show to the webcam. Again this will be compared to the biometric information on file for the student as well as against the student appearing to take the online test.

Some proctor technology is even able to take knuckle scans or fingerprints as part of the biometric identification process.

Proctor technology can also take screenshots of the candidate at intervals during the exam and compare this to the biometric information kept on file. By continually monitoring the student, it prevents any attempts to swap with another person mid examination.

How Do Online Exams Use Logins To Detect Cheating?

To stop third parties logging on from a different location to complete the exam on behalf of the student, proctor technology employs a two-factor authentication process. This includes a unique link and verification code. Geotagging can also be used to pinpoint the location of the student logging on and should this location change mid-exam, the software will flag this. Links provided can also have limited access, making them only usable for one login.

How Do Online Exams Use Voice Monitoring To Detect Cheating?

Proctor software taps into the microphone of the device the student is using to take the test. It will monitor the student’s voice to make sure this stays the same throughout the exam. The technology can also flag any additional voices it picks up in the background, including whispering. Some proctor software is programmed to detect key phrases such as “hey Siri” or “hey Google”. Using voice monitoring stops students from having someone else take the exam for them, having someone pass them information, and stops them from using apps that can provide them with answers.

How Do Online Exams Use Browser Monitoring To Detect Cheating?

Proctor software is also able to gain control of the browser search of a candidate’s computer during an exam. The software and by proxy, the examiner cannot see what websites the student is accessing, but the software will notify or record when a student steers away from the test window.

 Some proctor software restricts students from navigating away from the exam window until completion or restricts their access to opening any additional web tabs or windows. Restrictions can also apply to apps and plug-ins that can assist with answers, such as restricting Whatsapp use during tests and applications that allow for screen sharing or mirroring.

How Do Online Exams Use Webcams To Detect Cheating?

The proctoring software is also granted access to a student’s webcam during an online exam. The AI technology is able to monitor a candidate’s movements and flags any suspicious behavior. It watches for eye movement and picks up if the learner looks away from the screen for extended periods, how often they look away from the screen, and if they are consistently looking in a certain direction.

In some cases, companies that offer proctor software also employ human proctors. These human proctors can be used to watch the students through their webcams for the duration of the exam, much like how an invigilator would watch a group of students in a hall. Other software offers a combination of live and AI proctors whereby the AI technology monitors for any signs of cheating. If it notices suspicious behavior, then a live proctor will access the student’s webcam feed to monitor them.

How Do Online Exams Use Proctor Software To Stop Plagiarism?

When it comes to plagiarism, proctor software is able to restrict the copy, paste and print action of a device. Therefore, students cannot easily copy questions from any material they may have access to on their devices.

Some proctor software also scans the web to see if the student has used any exact wording from other sources.

How Do Online Exams Stop Test Material From Being Leaked?

Some proctor software is able to add a watermark of the student’s ID to each submitted exam. This prevents students from sharing exams with others once they have sat, as any exam leaked online is easily traced back to the perpetrator.

The proctoring software can also search online for any leaked content and then notify the institution. Certain proctor software companies are even able to offer the option to have the AI technology locate and destroy any unauthorized exam questions on the internet.

Added to this, proctor technology can prevent students from using screenshot and video recording software and apps during the exam, thus stunting them from capturing any of the exam content for later distribution.

How Do Online Exams Stop Students Using Other Devices To Cheat?

Some proctor software is so intelligent that it can detect when other devices are accessing test material content during an exam. In this way, students cannot use their phones, tablets, or other computers to find answers out of the webcam’s view.


There are many ways to cheat, but with the evolution of technology, there are now many ways to get caught. COVID has forced a surge in proctor services, and advancements in this technology will only continue to evolve. While some students may still find ways to outsmart these systems, most methods of cheating in online examinations, even the more ingenious ones, are being snubbed out by proctoring software.

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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