The rules for taking a test

I am often asked, “What is cheating?” And sometimes I ask others the same question. My succinct reply is usually: “Cheating is when someone gains an unfair advantage.” And, naturally the next question is, “How do you define unfair?” “Well, when you break the rules,” I reply. THE RULES are often unstated and poorly defined. Sometimes it seems like the rules are made up as we go along. In this short essay, I provide my attempt at listing the rules for taking a test.

Before I list my rules, I’m reminded of the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” In that film Harvey Logan challenges Butch to a knife fight, waving a 12 inch blade menacingly. Butch says, “No, no, not yet. Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out.” Harvey bellows out, “Rules? In a knife fight? No rules.” And Butch immediately kicks Harvey in the groin. (For a script excerpt see

Harvey forgot the rule, “There are no rules.” He thought that Butch would use a knife, because it was a “knife fight.” When there are no rules, there is no cheating.

As I pondered the question of rules that might define fair test taking, I came up with the following list.

  1. Be honest: Test taker statements are to be true and accurate. Two ways in which some individuals attempt to gain an unfair advantage are lying in order to obtain an accommodation, such as being granted extra time to take the test, and employing an imposter who takes the test in their behalf.
  2. Communicate clearly: Test takers are to be duly informed of test taking rules. Communication of the rules should be done carefully so as to not intimidate test takers, nor create an adversarial test-taking environment. All exam policies should be clearly stated, including the ability to retest and prohibition from sharing the test content with others.
  3. Be fair: The test-taking environment is to be the same, as much as it is possible, for all test takers. An exception to this rule is made for those who require an accommodation, such as reading or answer-responding assistance. All test takers have access to a uniform set of test material. Electronic devices with memories that allow for the smuggling of information useful in taking the test are specifically prohibited.
  4. Behave appropriately: The testing event is to remain free from disruptions and distractions. This allows test takers the opportunity to perform their best in a fair and equitable manner. Test takers who create distractions may be subject to discipline. Except for medical reasons, test takers may not bring food, liquids or other items into the test administration area.
  5. Don’t steal: No individual shall remove test materials from the testing session or make a copy of the test, without authorization. This includes any copy of the test content that could be made and taken from the test administration area.
  6. Do your own work: There is to be no communication between the test taker and any other individual during the test, except for questions regarding the test administration, but not the test content, directed at the test administration officials. This includes copying, receiving, and sharing answers between test takers. An exception to this rule is made if group collaboration is permitted.
  7. Respect others: The physical needs of test takers must be accommodated during the testing session. These include restroom breaks and other breaks that may be scheduled. A reasonable schedule should be established and posted so that all may adjust their behavior appropriately. Test takers who are unable to abide by the testing session schedule should be given an opportunity to request an accommodation, or exception.
  8. Respect property: All test taking materials are to be returned, intact and without excessive wear or abuse, immediately following the test administration. Test administrators are responsible to verify that all test taking materials have been returned.
  9. Don’t lie or fabricate: No act is allowed by a test taker, or other individual, which results in the unauthorized change of an individual’s test result. Such acts include changing answer sheets, disclosing answers during the test, providing answers or hints to a test taker, or allowing a test taker to break any of the rules.

Well, my list only contains nine rules so I don’t believe that we could call it the “Ten Commandments of Testing.”

Dennis Maynes

Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security

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