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Proctoring has been used for security purposes for over 1,500 years, yet our understanding of its impact is cursory. Read on to learn about proctoring's effectiveness in addressing test threats—You might be surprised to discover where proctors excel, and where they may need extra support.
"When we want to influence someone's behavior... sometimes a small action can have a big effect."
"The evidence shows, time and time again, that human beings are far less rational than we think, and are heavily influenced by small cues around us... The more we understand our test-takers, the better we can target the nudge design. "
Implementing Effective Nudges

All of the behavioral techniques discussed above have been demonstrated in a series of research studies to make a powerful difference in reducing cheating, sometimes even eliminating it completely (see Ariely, 2012). Behavioral design is not a magic pill, however. To implement a truly effective nudge, it’s important to carry out research (Parshall & Johnson, 2018). Sometimes a few iterations are needed to see the results you want. To design effective nudges that encourage honesty, one approach would be to start with some user research. The more we understand our test-takers, the better we can target the nudge design. For example, we can develop framing and identity cues that are closely matched to values these test-takers hold closely. With this deeper understanding, nudges can then be planned so that they target your specific examinees. The nudges might then be included in online materials that candidates review when registering for an exam, or they might be added to the language teachers use with students.

After implementing the behavioral nudges, research on their effectiveness can be conducted. This could include a comparison of previous security incident reports to any new ones that are noted. Has the count or severity of these incidents decreased? Is further improvement possible? There are other outcome measures that could be used. Educators could be surveyed about observed student behavior and about student comments that might suggest changed attitudes. Data forensics could provide a quantitative outcome measure, with psychometric analyses that look at each student’s responses to identify possible anomalies often associated with testing misbehaviors. All of these outcomes could help reveal the extent to which your nudges have improved your program’s exam security.


When we use well-designed nudges to encourage honest behavior, we can help our test-takers side with their better natures. We can help them make better choices about their test preparation and test-taking activities.
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The Deterrence Lockbox
Cynthia G. Parshall, PhD, Principal Consultant, Touchstone Consulting
John Fremer, PhD, CESP, President of Consulting Services, Caveon
Nudging Test-Takers to be Their Most Honest Selves
Cynthia G. Parshall, Ph.D.

Dr. Cynthia Parshall is the Principal Consultant with Touchstone Consulting, where she specializes in helping credentialing programs solve long-standing problems. Dr. Parshall’s work as a consultant has spanned a number of high-profile credentialing organizations and has included a focus on the integration of user experience tools into exam programs, the design of innovative item types, and the application of behavioral design tools into communications with candidates and SMEs. She has a strong reputation as a team-oriented collaborator and an excellent communicator. Dr. Parshall is the lead author of the book Practical Considerations in Computer-Based Testing, and she contributes to the blog series From the Item Bank.

John Fremer, Ph.D.

John Fremer is the President of Caveon Consulting Services. Through client projects, publications, collaborative activities, and conference presentations, he spends his time advocating for sound test security practices. Fremer has over 40 years of experience in the field of test publishing and test program development and revision, including Past President of the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), The Association of Test Publishers (ATP), and the Association for Assessment in Counseling (AAC). Among his accomplishments are assisting in the development of the testing-industry-wide Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education; co-editor of Computer-Based Testing: Building the Foundations for Future Assessments (2002, Erlbaum); author of “Why use tests and assessments?” in the 2004 book, Measuring Up: Assessment Issues for Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators; co-editor of The Handbook of Test Security (2013, Routledge); and co-author with John Olson of Lessons learned in State Assessment Programs in Preventing, Detecting, and Investigating Irregularities in State Assessment Programs (2015, CCSSO, TILSA).
Ariely, D. (2012). The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. New York: HarperCollins. Parshall, C.G., & Fremer, J. (2018). Using Nudges to Encourage Rule-Following by Our Test-Takers.  Presented at the annual meeting of The Conference on Test Security (COTS), Park City, UT 10-12, 2018. Parshall, C.G., & Johnson, B. (2018). Developing Nudges for Your Exam Program. [Blog post]. Retrieved on 5/6/19 from Thaler, R.H., & Sunstein, C.R. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Slide Deck Presentation
To view the notes from this presentation, please click here.
For more information about behavioral nudges, please see the below slide deck from Dr. Cynthia Parshall and Dr. John Fremer's 2018 Conference on Test Security (COTS) presentation. To view the notes from their presentation, click here.
When we want to influence someone’s behavior, if we use the right technique—a nudge—then sometimes a small action can have a big effect. Nudging is part of the new field of behavioral design, based in extensive research into what actually affects a person’s behaviors. The evidence shows, time and time again, that human beings are far less rational than we think, and are heavily influenced by small cues around us. These small environmental effects can help people carry out their true goals, or they can lead people astray. With behavioral design, we can investigate an environment and then implement the right kind of cues to help people take actions that will serve them and society well.
Well-designed behavioral nudges have effectively helped people save more for retirement, exercise more consistently, develop better study habits, and take other valuable actions. In assessment programs, we can use behavioral design to help test-takers show up for an exam, arrive on time, and bring their ID. We can use nudges to encourage volunteer item writers to complete their training and to submit the materials they promise to provide. When it comes to studying and taking a test, we can apply small, deliberate nudges to help our test-takers act as people of integrity, which most of them truly want to be. When we remind people about their better natures, they are less likely to “cut corners”, “shade the truth”, or take other unfair advantages. In testing contexts, they behave more honestly.
Behavioral design research that looks into the factors influencing honesty provides some specific behavioral tools that can be applied in assessment. Here are some examples of a few behavioral techniques (e.g., framing, social proof, identity, and reminders) that could be applied to test preparation and test-taking situations.

When preparing for a test (individually)
    • The test preparation rules should be clearly framed in meaningful terms. This means telling the test-takers why they should care about honest test prep methods, how this benefits them, and how dishonest test prep harms them.
      • For example, “I’d feel terrible if this meant I later on caused someone harm, or took poor care of my patients.”
    • Use social proof to give test-takers a sense that most other test-takers prepare for and respond to tests honestly. This sets a social norm for honesty.
      • For example, “The great majority of our test-takers prepare for their tests honestly and earn the scores they deserve.”
When preparing for a test (with others)
    • Use identity to remind test-takers that sharing item content is not actually in the best interest of the other test-takers.
      • For example, “I’m the sort of person who helps my friend study—but not the sort who helps them cheat.” 

When taking a test
    • Ethical reminders can have a powerful effect on lessening dishonesty. This is true if the reminder is given right before the test begins.
      • Examples of effective ethical reminders include having students review an honor code, or having candidates sign a commitment to test honestly.
      • Most of our Non-Disclosure Agreements would need to be revised, using good usability and plain English (rather than legalese) to be effective as nudges.