ASEE PRISM - October 2000

A Solution to Cheating

In regard to "The Science of Cheating" in the May-June issue of Prism always amuses me that almost everything you read about cheating on tests and exams fails to mention the truly efficient solution to it--oral, or "colloquial," face-to-face examinations.

In the mid 1970s, I taught physics at the Naval Engineering Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. The grading system there (as well as my own university education) was largely based on colloquial exams. The major advantages of the face-to-face system are the direct contact between professor and student and the opportunity for students to clarify their answers. Not so in the present, impersonal system of written examinations. Theoretically, in our university system, it is possible to graduate with a bachelor's degree (at least in some programs) without ever saying a single word to a single professor.

With the fast growth of computer technology, the possibilities for abuse within the written examination system will be even greater. The sophistication of computer access procedures will make it easier for hackers to develop new tricks for breaking into exam texts prior to the test.

A return to the historically proven tradition of colloquial examinations addresses the problem in a constructive way. It will also improve the quality and depth of interaction between professors and students. After 35 years, I still remember some of my best professors by the tough questions they asked me during the examinations. And I cannot recall a single time when I felt that my grade was not fair.

Alexander A. Berezin McMaster University, Canada

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