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Online proctored exam: Are you really trusting your students?

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
December 11, 2020
Table of Contents
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Rise of online proctored exams

As another exam period takes place entirely online, universities face the challenge of facilitating an inclusive, fair, and cheating-free testing environment. Online examination presents the risk of an unmonitored condition, where students have all the opportunities to consult outside sources while taking the tests. That's why an increasing number of institutions have turned to online proctored exams as the effective solution to ensure academic integrity and honesty.

Proctoring systems present the great ability to monitor and facilitate online exams taken by hundreds of students across varied time zones and settings. Especially during this sudden transition to remote learning, employing a computer surveillance software would significantly minimize cheating, ultimately preserving academic integrity.

Contrary to all the excitement among school administrators, teachers and students (especially students) demonstrate a polarized attitude towards proctoring. “Cringy, creepy, awkward, and invasive" are the words used most often by students when referring to the digital proctoring systems. Instead of being more honest while taking online tests, students constantly seek for strategies to trick the proctoring camera.

Amid the complaints of privacy, increased anxiety and counter effectiveness of online exam surveillance, proctoring companies are still doing well and thriving throughout the pandemic. 77% out of 312 universities stated that they were either implementing or planning to facilitate online surveillance systems, according to a survey from Educause.

Universities are doing their best to ensure solid academic continuity and consistent student performance, but does this mean having to rely on surveillance software?

Higher education testing must no longer prioritize assessment of learning (quantifying students' performance), and must address the dichotomy between assessment for and of learning, or formative and summative evaluation.

Therefore, this article aims to address the forever burning question of assessment in higher education, via discussion of proctoring systems and suggestion of assessment alternatives to leverage both assessment for and of learning.

What’s wrong with online proctoring?

Before pointing out the problems of online proctored exams, it is sensible to fully understand the tool, how it works and what benefits it can generate.

Online proctoring allows teachers to facilitate remote examination and minimize academic misconduct [7]. The system would either use webcams to monitor students' test surroundings, or integrate softwares into their computers to control the use of other online sources while taking exams. Proctoring can also involve human participation - for example, online proctors who are present to supervise students’s performance remotely [7].

Higher education institutions have highly acknowledged the benefits of online proctored in several areas, including:

Flexibility: Online proctoring allows for much more flexibility. On the one hand, institutions can conduct and supervise assessment at a much larger scale, over different time zones. On the other hand, students are able to arrange their own preferred time slots to take the tests, and to break free from the need to travel for exams [1].

Task automation: Employing a virtual surveillance system helps institutions save time and effort in mundane tasks, such as printing, arranging test venues, and recruiting human invigilators [1] [2].

and of course, Reduction in cheating: Academic misconduct is less likely to happen now that invigilation is one-to-one. Each student is accompanied and supervised by a private invigilator, which is a software integrated into his/ her computer [1] [2].

At the same time, increasing concerns were expressed over the implementation of proctoring, which center on:

1 - Intrusiveness and exam anxiety

It’s undoubtedly awkward and uncomfortable having a computer system supervise each and every move you make for 3 hours straight. Many students describe online proctoring as a manifestation of the “Orwellian" practice - an authoritative attempt by universities to prevent academic misconduct [8]. Complaints of intrusiveness is another huge concern as well. Proctoring system asks students to provide their name, identity numbers for exam authentication and verification. This leads to many questioning how their data is stored and processed.

Doing online exams under computer surveillance also increases anxiety. Studies have revealed a negative correlation between students' anxiety levels and exam performance: the more nervous students feel, the lower results turn out for their tests. Most importantly, those taking tests while being monitored by proctoring software tended to have a higher anxiety level.

2 - Academic inclusiveness

Other than privacy and anxiety concerns, criticism towards proctoring points towards its failure to address students' difference in terms of race, physical disabilities, as well as social and financial status. Lately, news has been stirred by frustrated international students over ExamSoft - a proctoring system, as the software “unintentionally" does worse at recognising identity of “non-white" students, especially females. Proctoring systems cause further trouble for students with special physical and mental conditions due to its cheating detection algorithm. The system would flag any abnormal behaviors from students to indicate whether their “suspicion level" is high, which equals cheating practices [8]. What if students are just a bit slower than others to type on the computer, or they have a hard time concentrating on the screen? Such individual differences will be automatically identified as suspicious, leading to unjust charges of dishonesty and cheating. In an attempt to foster integrity and honesty within higher education, proctoring can instead promote discrimination and prejudice.

3 - Technical issues

There are other issues to consider as well. Complaints are raised over technical set-ups of online proctored exams, ranging from complicated software installation and internet drop-out, to long wait times. Both teachers and students complain about how long it takes to install the software onto computers, or the internet suddenly drops in the middle of the exam [4] [5].


[1] Alessio, H., & Maurer, K. (2018). The impact of video proctoring in online classes. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 29(3&4), 1-10.

[2] Chin, M. (2020, April 29). Exam anxiety: How remote test-proctoring is creeping students out. The Verge. Source

[3] Dale, V. H., Wieland, B., Pirkelbauer, B., & Nevel, A. (2009). Value and benefits of open-book examinations as assessment for deep learning in a post-graduate animal health course. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 36(4), 403-410. Source

[4] Daniels, N. (2020, May 12). Should students be monitored when taking online tests? The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Source

[5] Flaherty, C. (2020, May 11). Online proctoring is surging during COVID-19. Inside Higher Ed | Higher Education News, Career Advice, Jobs. Source

[6] Hubler, S. (2020, May 10). Keeping online testing honest? Or an orwellian overreach? The New York Times - Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos. Source

[7] Norman, D. (2020, March 31). Waiting for the redirection. Source

[8] Rose, J. (2020, September 24). Students are rebelling against eye-tracking exam surveillance tools. VICE - VICE is the definitive guide to enlightening information. Source

[9] Simkin, Mark & Mcleod, Alexander. (2010). Why Do College Students Cheat?. Journal of Business Ethics. 94. 441-453. 10.1007/s10551-009-0275-x.

[10] Woldeab, D., & Brothen, T. (2019). 21st Century Assessment:Online Proctoring, Test Anxiety, and Student Performance. International Journal of E-learning & Distance Education, 34(1), 1-10. Source

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