Academic integrity is complex with many intermingling factors. While it is acknowledged that there are factors not under the control of the examiner, here are two things that can be done to help.

Design for open book conditions

Compose exam questions in acknowledgment of the prevailing conditions. Students will have access to a range of resources online, not just ‘open book’ but ‘open everything’. Avoid asking questions where answers are just a web search away. Write questions that elicit higher order thinking, connections, application or reflection. Avoid re-using publisher produced sets of questions and instead use questions with unique elements by referencing the unit context, altering phrases, names or variables. iLearn can help by presenting randomised sets of questions and unique sets of variables in numeric questions. Some previous advice was provided on Teche for designing for open book exams and a primer from LSE on ‘take home’ exams.

Be aware that many e-textbooks have licensing limits as to how many students can access the e-book at the same time. It is best to design exam questions that do not rely on having access to a licensed e-text. The library readings team can provide additional advice about the availability of e-texts during exams. See managing unit resources (MQ Library).

Be clear about the rules

Feedback from the MQ student community in 2020 was that there was the diversity of what was permitted in online open book exams. Differences from unit to unit mean that students may become confused about the rules in a given exam leading to accidental beaches of academic integrity. This is particularly the case where students come across worked solutions on websites that are similar to the questions on their exam!

Some recent choice quotes from students include:

…being misinformed on the topic of plagiarism… [and] not knowing what exactly was/was not permitted on an open book examination.

As a student new to taking classes and exams online I was unaware of the guidelines of what qualifies as an appropriate external resource.

The exam rules specifically stated … it was an open book exam, and it would be permissible to access online resources.

The final examination instructions stated that students .. are allowed to use unlimited reference materials… this caused ambiguity in regard to the rules.

The best thing you can do combat confusion is to be clear and complete in defining the exam instructions. Avoid long paragraphs of rules, instead use dot points.

Write dot point lists of what IS and is NOT permitted in each assessment. 

Be sure that each assessment and exam includes such a list. Remind students to:

 Refer to the specific rules for each assessment because these can be different.

Having clear rules will decrease the risk (and excuse) of accidental integrity beaches.

Be aware that the stricter that you make the rules the more difficult it is to enforce them. It is undeniably a balancing act between what are ‘red lines’ and the nature of the online space. An exam that is being run online that is invigilated versus one that is non-invigilated will have differing contexts and prevailing conditions.

The following is a set of example rules. You may not agree and these may not work for you, therefore please adjust according to the needs of the exam.

Example rule set

This open book online exam:

  • The exam responses must be your own work.
  • You must quote or paraphrase and reference any permitted material that you take/use/adapt from somewhere else.

You are permitted to:

  • Consult the text book(s).
  • Consult university provided unit materials on the unit website or in printed form.
  • Consult reference material from the university library or from credible online sources e.g. recognised publishers, government, educational institutions, research organisations.
  • Consult notes that you have produced yourself.
  • Communicate only to authorised university staff members for the purposes of clarification and logistical/technical trouble shooting e.g. exams help line, unit convenor, exam invigilator.

You are NOT permitted to:

  • Have someone else do exam questions for you.
  • Help another student with exam questions or hints.
  • Refer to or re-use identical or similar question solutions as might be found on social media, chat forums, ‘study help’ type websites, study note sharing websites or via other means.
  • Communicate or collaborate with another student or person in anyway during the exam without explicit permission from a University staff member (other than to authorised University staff members).
  • Ask for or receive exam answers or hints from someone else (other than an authorised University staff member).
  • Let your exam responses become available or visible to other students.
  • Provide the exam questions, exam materials or exam responses to another student or person via any means (other than to authorised University staff members). e.g post or communicate exam questions or materials others via forums, chat boards, ‘study assistance’ websites, instant messaging platforms, photograph and send via mobile devices to others.

Politely remind students that a breach of the exam rules is an academic integrity breach and will be reported to the discipline committee for determination.

Add a copyright statement on online exam files, quizzes and related materials. This reinforces the message and it helps the university seek remedies if exam material is shared online: e.g. “This material is copyrighted Macquarie University, sharing is not permitted”.

Further advice

Thinking about the combination of question design and developing exam rules in acknowledgement of the prevailing conditions is a compromise. However being clear will at least provide greater certainty and ease of compliance for all concerned.

Further advice and examples that will be helpful for preparing online exams are available.

Posted by Mathew Hillier

Mathew has been engaged by Macquarie University as an e-Assessment Academic in residence and is available to answer questions by MQ staff. Mathew specialises in Digital Assessment (e-Assessment) in Higher Education. Has held positions as an advisor and academic developer at University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Monash University and University of Adelaide. He has also held academic teaching roles in areas such as business information systems, multimedia arts and engineering project management. Mathew recently led a half million dollar Federal government funded grant on e-Exams across ten university partners and is co-chair of the international 'Transforming Assessment' webinar series as the e-Assessment special interest group under the Australasian society for computers in learning in tertiary education. He is also an honorary academic University of Canberra.


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