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Editorial: Reforming take-home exam policies

The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Co-Chairs, the Opinion Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief. It can be reached at

The Honor Committee and the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline are two bodies on campus that are responsible for enforcing disciplinary actions following violations of student standards outlined in "Rights, Rules, Responsibilities." According to the official website of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the Honor Committee is specifically responsible for “all undergraduate written examinations, tests and quizzes that take place in class,” while the Committee on Discipline deals with “violations of rules and regulations pertaining to any academic work that is not performed in class, including essays, term papers, problem sets, homework, laboratory reports and independent work.” During midterm and final exam periods, the Honor Committee handles in-class exams and the Committee on Discipline out-of-class, or “take-home,” exams. In many classes, professors assign take-home exams that are are “closed-note,” restricting the access of class notes, book notes, the Internet, and any other outside sources. The Board calls upon professors to not administer closed-note take-home exams, regardless of whether they are timed or untimed, because the Committee on Discipline lacks adequate enforcement mechanisms to uphold academic integrity standards on these examinations.


Exam periods are a stressful time for Princeton students, so professors may assign closed-note take-home exams as a means of granting more flexibility to students with busy exam schedules. However, a major problem with these exams is the potential for undetected cheating. The professor administering the exam has no way of controlling whether a student, in the solitude of their dorm room or another secluded area, uses a textbook, notebook, study guide, or even strategically placed Post-it notes with essential information during the take-home exam. Yet, the professor trusts that the student will abide by the closed-note requirement. This type of cheating can be done surreptitiously, which makes it almost impossible for the Committee on Discipline to enforce these policies and to put together enough evidence to prosecute students who are not abiding by the closed-note rule. Because other students predict that their classmates can easily use notes or an Internet source without being caught, it increases the temptation for them to cheat as well.

In addition, those who abide by the rules may be slighted in the grading process when those who may have cheated receive the same, or higher, grades. Altogether, this is a very problematic incentive structure, regardless of the actual cheating rates. In order to achieve a grade above the curve, students might feel obligated to break the rules in order to ensure they are helping themselves.

The Board recommends that instead of closed-note take-home exams, professors who see the benefits of administering out-of-class exams should administer open-note, untimed take-home exams or papers due on Dean’s Date, which would eliminate advantages gained from cheating on closed-note take-home exams because every student would be allowed to use their notes. The Board also suggests open-note timed take-home exams that can be downloaded from Blackboard as an alternative. When the student downloads and opens the file from Blackboard, the time opened and submitted can be tracked in order to ensure the student is only using the allowed period of time.

The Board also believes that open-note take-home exams have pedagogical advantages over closed-note take-home exams. The use of notes allows for more thorough analysis of content and reduces the focus on rote memorization, forcing students to understand the material better and practice higher-level thinking, logic, and analytical skills. In general, the work submitted by students will be closer to their best work if they are able to use all the materials at their disposal. This should not discount the value of closed-note in-class exams, but we believe that in an out-of-class setting, open-note assessments make more sense. If a professor prefers closed-note exams, the Board recommends that they administer these exams in class instead, where the Honor Code is enforceable.

The Board believes professors should implement these recommendations to improve exam administration and ensure fairness for all students. These changes will also reduce unnecessary stress to students during midterm and final exam periods.