Theoretical Exam Scenario

You are proctoring an exam. A passing score on the exam could determine whether or not the examinee keeps an existing job, is promoted, or is hired by another company. In all three cases, the position is either directly or indirectly responsible for the health, safety, or life of millions of people.  The examinee reports having a medical issue which would, if stated by a doctor and approved by the examination board, qualify the examinee for extra exam time. However, the proctor did not receive an approved extension by the exam board.

During the four hour exam, the proctor announced at least four times (once per hour during the first three hours and again 30 minutes before the conclusion) the exam would end exactly at noon and there would be no extra time to change any answers on the answer sheet. This caution also appears in the material mailed and emailed to all examinees prior to the exam.

At noon, the proctor announced the end of the exam. All examinees except one put their pencils down, closed their exam packets, and stood in an exam-return line. The proctor noticed the examinee mentioned above continued answering questions. The proctor asked the examinee to stop and the examinee put the pencil down and took the exam to the exam-return line. A moment later, the proctor noticed the examinee was once again updating the answer sheet. The proctor took the pencil from the examinee and said if the examinee were to modify the answers in any way the exam would be discarded. The proctor left the examinee with the exam, but returned a moment later when another proctor reported the examinee retrieved the pencil and was once again updating the answer sheet.

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If you were the proctor, what would you do in this theoretical scenario? How would your decision change if you learned the examinee had done the same thing upon the conclusion of a different exam? If you were the examinee, how could you justify your action? Who is affected by the examinee’s action? Is using unapproved extra time the same as writing a hint or formula where you hope the proctor will not see it?


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  1. As a fellow test taker, I might protest if the rule breaker was given an unfair time advantage. As a proctor, if the examinee refused to obey the command to stop, I would remove the exam, document the violation, and report the violation to the proper authority. However, if I were the examinee, I might protest the ruling as arbitrary unless there is a written and published policy that states “when the proctor says ’stop,’ you must stop instantly (meaning there is no extra time to darken or erase your answers). Failure to stop writing when ‘stop’ is called is an Honor Code violation and will result in the examinee’s immediate disqualification.”

    Do you think prohibited behaviors should be specifically listed? If you were aware the examinee had a real proven medical issue but had not requested extra time as advised, and could not afford to have current employer aware of medical issue would you be tempted to theoretically let first offense pass? If you would not let the offense pass, what would you do instead? If you knew the examinee had violated the ‘stop’ order on a previous exam what do you think would be proper penalty?

    1. Esther, if I were the proctor in the theoretical scenario, I would have taken the exam from the examinee’s hands, torn the exam into 37 unequal shapes, run the shapes through an industrial strength cross shredder, retrieved the shreds and burned them at 454 degrees Fahrenheit until nothing remained but ashes, then disproportionately scattered the ashes in an environmentally friendly manner across 114 locations known only to me and know only during the 15 seconds I remembered where I scattered them.

      I agree with you. If I were another examinee I would be extremely upset to see one examinee being given extra time to complete an exam. I would question how many other examinees had passed only because they were unfairly given extra time. I would also question how many unqualified people were certified by the organization and how many injuries or deaths were related to certified, but unqualified, people who made poor decisions that a properly certified person would not make.

      I’m sure that if the exam were destroyed as I mentioned earlier in this comment, the examinee would protest that the rules were not published or well publicized. However, as a theoretical proctor in this theoretical scenario, I would insist that if someone is smart enough to study for the exam they are also smart enough to understand the meaning of the word “stop.”

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