Breaking The Test Bank Wide Open

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Sharpen your pencil. And get to work!

Sharpen your pencil. And get to work! Source: Casey Serin hide caption

itoggle caption Source: Casey Serin

I went to a university with a big Greek population. I found the whole rush process bewildering and kept a safe distance, but I had a couple friends on my hall who saw through the maze. They told me a number of titillating stories about Greek life, but none left as much of an impression on me as the rumor that quite a few of the houses had test banks — filing cabinets filled with copies of exams given by professors and returned to the students, who then donated them to the banks for future brothers and sisters to "study." I couldn't believe it was true, but you know what? It probably was, and now a former student, who, like me, didn't pledge, has created a more "diplomatic" test bank — a web site called, where students and faculty can post exams from classes around the world for free. So, is this the democratization of the test bank, a way for students who don't join sororities and fraternities to get the same leg up? Or is it cheating, just like paying for an essay?



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I teach at a community college, and if I plan on using a test again, I don't allow the test out of the classroom or my office. I always re-collect tests after the students look at them, since my assumption is that if the test goes home, future students will have access to it.

Sent by Amanda | 3:05 PM | 9-16-2008

I think the professor has the *obligation* to make up a new test for every class. Otherwise, cheaters have an advantage.

Sent by R Ellis | 3:43 PM | 9-16-2008

Even 30 years ago in the UK previous years degree exam questions were available in the University library.

Sent by Isaac | 3:46 PM | 9-16-2008

I used to teach engineering at a midwestern university. There was a large group of foreign students who had collections of old tests akin to what a fraternity would have. I used to always post old tests for all students to review, especially the part-time students who did not have access to the same resources. I wanted all of the students to learn the material and have equal chances to do well on the test.

Sent by Carole Shlaes | 3:52 PM | 9-16-2008

As a new teacher, I'm very interested in this topic. I feel overwhelmed by the ways in which students can cheat: talking about questions between classes in the hall, taking pictures of test questions with cell phones, looking over at a neighbor's answers... I think that the only way to discourage cheating is to talk with the students about the process of building character. If they understand how crucial honesty is in the real-world, maybe they will think twice before using a site like this for test answers.

Sent by Natalie Price | 3:54 PM | 9-16-2008

I don't see the issue as long as the tests don't have the answers on them. Obviously, if the tests were donated by the students, then the answers would be on them. But, if the tests are without answers, then I think that offers more of a study guideline.
When I was taking an AP Psychology course in high school, the teacher allowed us to take previous tests as practice for the test itself and to help us study. The tests were administered in class however. But, if you look in any AP course help book, they have practice tests in them as well.
I don't think this should be considered cheating as the answers aren't given on the tests. They are simply a guideline to the infrastructure of the test that is coming up. And plus, if a professor wants to re-give the same test semester after semester, then I think they're asking for people to pass down their tests to new students. At least make it a bit harder and change the questions...

Just a thought.

Sent by Matt Steelman | 4:42 PM | 9-16-2008

As a past teacher, posting prior test answers should not be a concern for teachers. As a student, I like to get a sense for what segment of the voluminous information I've just covered in the semester class will likely appear on the test and to what depth.

Schools need to teach methods for solving problems and tests need to have questions that require a student to solve a problem, showing their work. Focus on making schools more interesting and challenging for students and cheating won't be a large issue.

But then, we also need a government that doesn't make teachers - teach to the state test in order to have the scores that grant them gov't funds.

Sent by Lynne Furrer | 4:47 PM | 9-16-2008

A professor's job is to teach and test the students. As that being said, it is also their job to make new tests. The fact that some professors try to prevent students from posting their exams online, by not giving back the exams to students should be prohibited. I think a professor must give a student his/her test back once the exam is graded, because a graded test is a document (a proof) that a student earned a grade and passed the class -- and I want to enforce the word DOCUMENT. Therefore, it is the professor's job to often change the exams in order to prevent student's from posting them online.
Old tests are great for students to review the material.

Sent by Aline | 5:58 PM | 9-16-2008

During the NPR interview 9/16/08 a statement was made that looking at was free at least initially to see examples. However, after trying to open the site I was met with a message that I needed to download Drupal software which is not free. Whats up????

Sent by S. Beezer | 6:03 PM | 9-16-2008

Some universities, like mine, require teachers to post old tests on the library reserve. This puts everyone on a level playing field and eliminates cheating. Should a teacher decide to reuse a test, then his grades will be hard to give.

Sent by Andrew | 6:19 PM | 9-16-2008

I think in this case, the fault of cheating lies at professors and not at the students. Professors that reuse exams take the risk of exams being shared in this modern age through the use of many digital devices, whether or not they are collected. However, I believe that can actually hamper cheating, now that professors from all over the world have access to exams from all over the world, and don't need to reuse older ones.

Sent by Alex | 7:39 PM | 9-16-2008

I think it is also possible to write test questions that don't lend themselves to 'cheating". As a college student we were given test questions to study and prepare for rigorous exams. Knowing the questions inspired thought and preparation, not cheating.

Sent by mary costello | 8:36 PM | 9-16-2008

As a recent graduate I can speak to the idea that previous tests are often passed down from year to year, particularly in mentoring organizations such as fraternities and clubs. It eventually came to the point where professors would finally supply the tests themselves, and subsequently ensure that the new test would not be too similar to older ones. Old tests thereby lost their power as cheating tools and instead became mere study aids. This is always going on behind the scenes and more professors just need to be aware of it and take proper action.

Sent by rob w. | 9:48 PM | 9-16-2008

as a college student i feel this is not right, and know many people who would not study but simply cheat using this site.

Sent by Amelia Page | 9:51 AM | 9-17-2008

I was a grad student at University of Oregon and found out that the final exam of a required graduate level class was absolutely identical to one given in a recent year. Old versions were available from other graduate students and I found that some of my classmates had had copies before our exam. Unsurprisingly, these classmates did well and the rest of us did not. Soon after, I sat in this professor's office for over an hour listening to the professor defend this. The professor knew the old exams were available to some but not others, and with a straight face, told me that I was a deficient student because I had not come and asked for copies of old exams. (This despite the fact that a different one old exam has been handed out in class as a sample to us all.) I, on the other hand, consider this an ethical breach of conduct by a lazy professor.

Inquiries to the university legal counsel, to the graduate school and to the department indicate that there is no policy against this. So the schools themselves are contributing to this tragedy.

I welcome but it is not a solution to the real problem. Universities need to make policies to protect students from this kind of discrimination against those who are not in a position to have copies of old exams. My time should be spent studying, not having to search around for old exams for every class just to keep up.

I would also like to mention to the founder of this website, that the copyright on exams is usually held by the university, NOT the professor who wrote it. So you may not have to remove an exam on request by the professor. Wait for the take down request from the university itself. If you are using a reputable ISP who notifies you when they receive one, and if you act promptly to remove the material from a legitimate take down request, you should be acting within the law. Although you will want to discuss this with your lawyer, who I am sure you have hired by now. Good luck with the site!!

Sent by Paul Fortune | 4:10 AM | 9-18-2008