The Deterrence Lockbox
Steve Addicott, CESP, Chief Operating Officer, Caveon
Exploring Deterrence
Steve Addicott is Caveon’s Chief Operating Officer. In addition to driving Caveon’s growth, Steve provides consultation services to ensure assessment programs find comprehensive solutions for all of their test security needs. Steve’s deep involvement in the delivery of Caveon’s security services often includes extensive client outreach and conducting exhaustive reviews and analysis of testing program structures and test security planning.
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Find out why the least utilized and most misunderstood component of the Test Security Process, deterrence, is vital for defending the validity of exam scores. This article provides the foundation for understanding just what deterrence is, and the positive effect it can have on test security. defines deterrence as “the act of discouraging people from engaging in wrongful behavior”. However, I prefer’s definition, as it goes a bit further and defines deterrence as “the act of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences”.

Let’s take a closer look at the pieces of this last definition:
Discouraging an action or event
For our purposes in test security, the primary actions we seek to discourage are cheating (where one seeks to artificially inflate HIS/HER test score) and item theft (where one steals items so that OTHERS may have their test scores artificially inflated). While innumerable methods exist to attempt these actions, they fall into 12 “buckets” of test security threats for which deterrence may be implemented (see
Instilling doubt
Per the definition, we want to “instill doubt”. This is a fundamental concept, as so much of the test security effort we extoll focuses on causing test takers to wonder, “can I really get away with this?” Video cameras, proctors, authentication, etc. have all been implemented to germinate those concerns in testers who might otherwise be tempted to break the rules.
Fear of the consequences
Myriad, time-tested approaches have been implemented to thwart test fraud by fostering a “fear of the consequences”. Indeed, this aspect of deterrence has sparked deep consideration by philosophers and criminologists alike for nearly 400 years!

The last portion of the definition, "fear of the consequences", falls under the field of deterrence theory. Proponents of deterrence theory believe that people choose to obey or violate the rules (or the law) after calculating the gains and consequences of their actions; this is typically done by assigning a suitable punishment for the behavior we want to dissuade. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) may have been the first philosopher to develop this perspective when he posited that the punishment for crime or rule-breaking must be greater than the benefit that comes from committing the action. We’ve been creating suitable punishments ever since!
In this vein, two types of deterrence may be leveraged—general and specific:

Specific deterrence 
Specific deterrence focuses on a specific perpetrator and is designed to discourage him/her from committing the same wrongful act in the future by reinforcing the consequences. An example of this is when I get pulled over for speeding and am issued a ticket. The intent is that the punishment of paying a fine may slow down my driving behavior in the future. In testing, we see this type of deterrence when a test-taker has his/her administration cancelled and must wait some period before re-testing. The goal is that missing out may help keep the test-taker’s behavior on the straight and narrow in the future.
General deterrence
While specific deterrence is customized for the individual who committed a misdeed, general deterrence is intended to sway a broad audience as a whole (such as a group of students or candidates) from participating in inappropriate behavior. It works by making people think twice about breaking the rules. Sticking with the driving metaphor, our traffic laws serve as a general deterrent—the threat of a ticket for speeding or not obeying the rules may prevent a large group of drivers from operating their vehicles recklessly. There are numerous examples of general deterrence in testing, as test security sanctions may involve public notification, score invalidations, program expulsion, legal prosecution, etc.
"When punishment is [appropriately] severe, certain, and swift, a test-taker may carefully consider the possible gains against the consequences involved in cheating and piracy, and be deterred from engaging in the wrongful actions."
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According to references on deterrence theory, effective deterrence involves three key components:  Severity, Certainty, and Celerity (or swiftness of response).

1. Severity—making a punishment harsh enough that an audience will be fearful of receiving it. This involves an interesting balancing act. If punishment is too harsh, the audience may “cry foul” and protest; if too lenient, it may not prevent test cheats and pirates from perpetrating their misdeeds. 2. Certainty—This involves ensuring that punishment takes place whenever a misdeed is committed. In our world of test security, this is a lofty goal to achieve! However, if individuals realize that being caught is probable, many may choose to stick to the rules. 3. Celerity—The closer the punishment is to the misdeed, the greater the likelihood that other offenders will realize that rule-breaking is a mistake.

In short, when punishment is severe (but not inappropriately so), certain, and swift, a test-taker may carefully consider the possible gains against the consequences of fraud and be deterred from engaging in wrongful actions.  Here is one final challenge to all of us as we consider how to deter test fraud—Despite our best efforts and intentions, it can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of deterrence. In general, since only those offenders who are NOT deterred are caught, we need to develop innovative methods to gauge how well our deterrence efforts do (or do not) work!