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Assessment Blog

9th January 2023 | Candidate experience Exam malpractice

How to tackle assessment malpractice without compromising your candidates’ experiences

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Assessment malpractice is an age-old challenge every qualification provider faces – and when mishandled, it can lead to major consequences for everyone involved.

For your professional qualification (PQ) organisation, malpractice can significantly affect your reputation and the integrity of the assessments you offer. And for your candidates, malpractice can often disqualify them from the assessments they’re taking. In the worst cases, when assessing for professions with protected titles such as architects and nurses, malpractice can potentially ruin candidates’ entire careers.

If you’re starting to rethink your assessment formats with digital technologies, you’ll likely encounter new challenges associated with malpractice – and tackling them will be key to protecting your candidates’ experiences.

Assessment formats have evolved – but malpractice is still a threat

While paper-based assessments may have evolved over the years – introducing additional components and rules to examinations – a lot of the candidate malpractice associated with them remains the same.

The methods range from simple approaches such as cheating with notes on hands to more complex methods, like interfering with examination papers as they’re sent to scanners. And despite invigilation methods improving, malpractice is still a big threat.

In 2019, Ofqual reported that more than 3,000 penalties were issued to students taking GCSE, AS, and A Level exams – an 11% rise from the previous year. And it’s safe to assume that PQs – where the stakes are even greater – are similarly affected.

Even since some assessments from PQ providers have moved to digital formats, the threat of malpractice remains high. Methods such as bribery, content theft, impersonation, and content sharing are just as present in many digital-based assessments – and risk their integrity.

And for remote assessments, threats such as collusion – where students work together to complete an assessment – become even greater. While remote assessments offer greater flexibility and accessibility for candidates, without the right measures in place, there can be more opportunities for candidates to share information, submit similar components, and communicate with each other.

Assessment security can have a detrimental effect on candidates’ experiences

Many providers have tried implementing malpractice prevention methods to tackle common threats, but in a lot of cases, they’re not effective enough – and they have a detrimental effect on candidates’ experiences.

For example, block-out software that prevents candidates from accessing third-party sources can be evaded by tech-savvy candidates. Also, many popular submission portals designed to detect collusion often miss cases on a regular basis or can be tricked by candidates using different file types.

When candidates aren’t guilty of malpractice, the investigation processes involved can also easily damage their wellbeing. Whether it’s the lengthy process of examining a candidate’s work for plagiarism, overbearing invigilation, or the fear-mongering that comes with reporting cases of malpractice, many approaches can end up affecting future candidate performance.

Fortunately, while malpractice still remains a big concern, there are some key opportunities available for PQ providers to address the challenge in the coming months – and ensure their candidate experience remains positive.

What to think about when designing secure assessments

Many forward-thinking PQ providers are rethinking how they assess their candidates and redesigning assessment formats to more accurately reflect the skills candidates are being graded on. And that provides an opportunity to rethink the security methods that protect these assessments.

We’d recommend asking the following questions in your organisation to ensure you’re designing secure assessments that don’t damage your candidates’ experiences:

  • Are we well-equipped to offer remote assessments?

    As more learning moves to online platforms, you’ll need to find a way to deliver secure remote assessments to meet candidates’ expectations.

    This means thinking about what candidates will be able to access on their own devices, how your remote proctoring method might affect candidates’ anxiety, and how it compares to in-centre assessments. You’ll need to strike a balance between candidate privacy and strict invigilation that doesn’t have a significant effect on the integrity of your assessment.

  • Can we deliver secure, on-demand assessments?

    Many PQ providers are aiming to offer on-demand assessments to help candidates test more frequently and enter the job market faster. But, most providers won’t be able to provide more than 365 versions of the same test to account for every day of the year and multiple time zones.

    Instead, consider how you can implement adaptive testing and serialised item banks which diversify test items per user to offer unique assessments for every candidate, regardless of when they’re being assessed.

    This is an area where AI is becoming increasingly useful – innovative PQ providers are using the technology to design smarter, more dynamic assessments, along with auto-marking that reduces reliance on examiner availability.

  • Do we have the data science skills needed to detect collusion accurately?

    While many digital platforms and submission portals available today are able to spot cases of plagiarism, collusion is much harder to detect. It often requires a more forensic level of analysis, which demands data science skills within your organisation or from the technology partner you work with.

    As you redesign your assessment experiences, detecting collusion will be a crucial factor that can help you stand out among other PQ providers and ensure your assessments maintain their integrity.

Start rethinking your assessment security with a free health check

While these challenges leave a lot to think about, they’re all solvable with the right approach, and the right tools. And they’ll be key to confidently embracing the full benefits of digital assessments.

In the meantime, you can start by assessing your current security profile and identifying the gaps you can fill right now.

Sign up for a free health check with one of our experts to see how you can protect your assessments from threats such as collusion today.

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