Academic misconduct, being any attempt by a student to gain an unfair advantage in an assessment, whether coursework or exams, by unauthorised means can be influenced by a range of factors. Examples of misconduct include collusion, copying, impersonation, falsification, deceit, plagiarism, cheating and assisting another student to do any of these practices. (CU, 2020)
How we design our assessments and the associated support can play a key role in reducing the opportunities for and frequency of academic misconduct. Choo & Tan (2008) identify three elements that need consideration in our assessment design to reduce academic misconduct:
- Opportunity – making engaging in academic misconduct more challenging and making it easier to detect
- Rationalisation – ensuring that students understand the importance of academic integrity.
- Pressure – students will face many pressures, academic, cultural/social, personal, which can cause behaviours which can lead to academic misconduct
An assessment literacy will help ensure these elements are considered in the assessment design. Having an assessment literacy focus in our assessment design includes:
- having clear well designed authentic assessments;
- timely and effective feedback that is dialogic, engaging students and helping them develop their self-regulation capabilities;
- and ensuring they understand appropriate academic integrity behaviours.
Considering the three elements in assessment design
How assessment tasks are designed can help reduce the opportunities for academic misconduct. Assessment tasks that are least likely to result in academic misconduct activity include those that are personalised, authentic assessments that encourage application, oral assessments and assessments that encourage reflection and focus on the learning process rather than the product. In addition it is important that assessments are regularly refreshed, so where authentic assessments are used (via case studies, for example), the case studies should be updated for each iteration. More detail on these approaches are provided below.
- Assessments that require students to demonstrate professional skills and attitudes as well as just knowledge. For example, enquiry-based activities in which students are required to present proposed solutions, with justifications.
Personalise the assessment
- Asking students to provide a short reflection outlining their approach and reasoning to an assessment for example.
- Portfolio approaches, requiring students to select a range of evidence can also create a personalised assessment. Consideration will need to be given to the manageability of such assessments based on cohort sizes.
- Making drafts part of the assessment will add personalisation, provide formative opportunities for the students and provide insight on students capabilities and progression.
- Where appropriate allow students to submit in their own chosen mode. For example submitting a podcast or narrated presentation instead of a written submission.
Focus on the learning process
- Focusing on the end product, such as an essay or presentation, may not easily evidence all the learning, particularly skills and capabilities. Asking for plans, storyboards or reflections on the process will emphasise these skills and capabilities.
- Incremental assessments that build on previous assessments; having assessments that make connections between modules will enhance the course focus. With such assessments asking students to explain how they have used feedback from previous assessments will enhance the personalised nature of these tasks.
- Live assessments provide an opportunity to interact with and test students understanding (e.g. viva, presentations).
Update assignments regularly
- Change assessment tasks, and case studies on a regular basis. The internal moderation process provides an opportunity to check that this is happening.
Students will face pressures from many perspectives. Good assessment design and support can help to alleviate these. It is also important to understand the skills and capabilities of your students, using diagnostic testing and/or results from earlier assessments to identify areas for development will also be useful strategies to help in how students are supported.
- Consider how much time will be required to complete the assessment. Word counts are used as the standard equivalence for assessment tasks. However, this does not always fully reflect the requirements of the task, placing the emphasis on the product rather than the learning process the students will engage in. Guidance on considering Time-on-Task.
- Core assessments provide a means of spreading the assessment load and giving students easy ‘in-module’ opportunities to improve.
- Ensure there is no bunching of assessment submission dates. Taking a course-based view ensures assessments are appropriately spaced, providing time for feedback to be used by students and not to have competing submission points.
- Diagnostic testing can provide valuable information to inform teaching and promote student curiosity in the subject.
- Ensure the assessment requirements are clear. Provide assessment brief information in multiple formats, written and audio/video, supplemented by opportunities to check and test students understanding of the requirements.
Take an education focus on academic integrity, to ensure that students understand why it is important – reflecting academic expectations and professional behaviours (example case study). Using an assessment literacy framework emphasises developing a clear understanding of the language used in assessment, the purpose of the different tasks and on developing the skills and capabilities required to complete assessment tasks beyond the subject knowledge, including self-regulation capabilities. Assessment literacy also subsumes feedback literacy and its focus on a dialogic approach, encouraging active student engagement with feedback.
Taking an education focus does not preclude the need for students to understand the academic regulations on academic integrity and the consequences of engaging in academic misconduct. It does though move the emphasis from informing the students to developing students’ understanding. This also highlights that this is an on-going process through the students’ academic journey.
Throughout the students’ programme they need to be provided opportunities to develop the skills required to perform with academic integrity. This might include:
- Provide opportunities for students to explore the differences between quoting, paraphrasing and summarising. For example, asking students to provide summaries of papers.
- Provide clear guidelines on referencing (see Coventry University Library guides)
- Use examples of previous practice. Where use of student samples may not be appropriate, providing summaries of common issues that arise through assessment tasks for students to review and propose solutions for is an alternative.
- Establish expectations, collaboratively with the students.
- Provide space for discussions around academic misconduct. Make it clear you are aware of the pressures students can be under and the temptations for academic misconduct.
Selected references and supporting resources
Office of Teaching and Learning
Academic Enhancement and Professional Development – Assessment and Feedback
Choo, F. and Tan, K. (2008). The effect of fraud triangle factors on students’ cheating behaviors. Advances in Accounting Education: Teaching and Curriculum Innovations, 9, 205–220.
Curriculum 2025 – Authentic Assessment
Forsyth, R (2022) Confident assessment in higher education, London: Sage
University of British Columbia – Assessment Strategies to reduce academic misconduct
University of Wollongong – Minimising the risk of academic misconduct