A Jitter-Free Test in My Online Course

Taking my first test, I realize how easy it is to cheat in an online course.

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After a few mediocre quiz scores, I was pleasantly surprised by my performance on my first graded test.

I have serious test anxiety when it comes to anything related to numbers. 

In high school, my heart would race and I'd start sweating at the sight of a math exam. Precious minutes would tick by as I tried to talk myself off the ledge. Ditto with the GRE I took after college.

So yesterday when I finally took my first graded exam for my online personal finance course – thanks to a slip-up, I was about nine days behind the recommended schedule – I was surprised by my nonchalant attitude.

I had breezed through the practice exam earlier in the day, knocking out the test in 15 minutes instead of the 60 minutes provided. I ended up with an A-minus, thanks to more than a little help from my textbook.

[Learn whether online education is right for you.]

Before I started the real test, which covered four chapters of my textbook, I checked my syllabus to make sure I understood how the test would work. But all I could find was that it would be open book, and I'd have 60 minutes to complete it. Could I use my notes, I wondered? Surf the Internet for answers?

I flipped to the academic integrity policy, which said cheating on a test could be defined as giving or receiving unauthorized assistance, collaborating with other people, letting a friend take the test or vice versa.

That still seemed a bit vague to me, so to be safe, I decided I'd rely solely on my trusty textbook.

I hit "start test" and began working my way through the 25 multiple choice questions. Most were pretty straightforward, and I was even able to figure out some of the math problems without experiencing heart palpitations. I turned to my textbook maybe twice.

Halfway through the test I had a realization: This test was God's gift to cheaters. It would be insanely easy to use the Web or ask a friend for help.

When it came to combating cheating, my test-taking experience was considerably more low-tech than some that I'd read about.

Massive open online course provider Coursera uses keyboard dynamics, or typing patterns, to determine the identity of test-takers. Other schools require students to use webcams while they take tests or mandate that they take their exams at a location where they can be physically monitored by a proctor.

[Explore the controversy around MOOCs.]

Since all we were given was a vague integrity policy, I couldn't help but wonder whether the teacher thought the test was even worthwhile.

After 20 minutes of clicking on circles – the online version of filling in bubbles on a standardized test form – and saving every answer, I submitted the test.

It wasn't particularly challenging, so bragging is probably not appropriate. But I'm going to do it anyway: I got 24 of the 25 correct!

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