In a time where digital transformation is fast and higher education institutions are continuing to enhance their digital experience, how do we ensure exam papers are delivered and submitted securely and with integrity?

Until recently, a closed-book exam in an exam room gave you some confidence that students who attempted to copy each other or use non-permitted materials would be prevented from doing so or dealt with appropriately if caught doing so.

You may have been able to physically watch your students in an in-person exam but this is at the expense of an exam room, huge quantities of paper and the inflexibility of pen and paper-based exams that have to be collated, sorted, shipped to markers and then second markers before being stored. The costs – financial, environmental and temporal – were huge.

Delivering secure online exams and assessments means applying the integrity of an exam room in a digital environment.

Creating a VLE or LMS online exam might provide some ability to alter the environment or monitor students, but it depends on plugins or integrations and whether they are available to you.

On a digital assessment platform, you have the flexibility to take a question paper and customize the environment each time you deliver it.

Security for Digital and Online Exams: Remote and In-Person

This article explores how you can ensure the right level of security and integrity, whether you are running high-stakes online examinations where the candidate is remote, or whether they are on site using either their own or a provided computer. The considerations differ depending on location and who owns the device. The flexibility of a digital assessment platform allows educational institutions to consider these differences and either create an assessment policy that affords flexible location or consolidate exams to a single environment.

Digital and Online Exam Security in Different Exam Types

There are many ways to take an exam. For some generations, the word ‘exam’ conjures mental images of rows of desks, pens and lots of paper. The advantages of a computer are known, but concerns remain as to what a candidate might access outside of their exam environment.

We will look at how you can find the right level of security and integrity for three different exam modes:

  • Open book where candidates are permitted to access any materials available to them. In a digital context, this includes the internet.
  • Closed book where candidates are not permitted to access anything other than their exam
  • Permitted materials: where candidates are allowed to access specific resources permitted by assessment regulations. This may be a book or in a digital context, a collated bundle of documents, or even a specific website.

How to Secure Digital and Online Exams

With a digital assessment ecosystem, like Inspera, you can set how much, if any access students have to source materials.

This means you can permit students to use any resource on their computer or on the internet (open book). Alternatively you can lock down their computer (closed book) using an integrated secure, or locked, browser, so that they are restricted to just their exam.

A hybrid approach is to use the locked browser but permit access to documents or selected websites (or both) that you curate and add to the exam (permitted materials).

With a locked browser you can have real control over the environment in which an online test is taken.

How Can I Run a Digital Exam With Integrity?

One option is creating exams that can be run in closed book mode. Removing access to anything on a candidate’s computer other than their exam using a locked browser replicates conditions within a traditional exam room. But you may want more flexibility. If so, there are two other options that can be used depending on what you seek to guard against.

Similarity checking

For exams in open-book or permitted-materials mode

A similarity checker can be integrated into a digital assessment platform so that where required, student submissions can be checked to ensure source material has been appropriately cited and not plagiarized in line with your academic conduct regulations. This allows you to check for similarity as you do now with other assessment types such as coursework, term papers and projects.


For all modes

Having the option to remotely proctor your students gives you a high level of flexibility in the way you offer assessments. Inspera Proctoring enables you to maintain contact with test takers in real time via live screen, audio or video recording, or any combination of the three. This can be managed by you or AI, or in combination. Sessions are recorded and automatically generated flags alert reviewers to behavior that may require investigation.

For an online cohort, it means students no longer have to travel to an exam location which might be some distance from their home. For on-campus and hybrid students, you might choose to give them the option of where they take their exam. Some may prefer to take it on a computer on-campus, others from home.

Think Beyond the Traditional Exam Room

As higher education institutions embrace digital transformation, ensuring secure and integrity-driven online exams is a priority.

However, when you are designing online exams, you can go beyond the limitations of an exam room to suit your students’ or subject needs.

Digital assessment ecosystems like Inspera provide customizable environments, similarity checking, and online exam proctoring options that enhance and simplify exam integrity. These solutions offer flexibility, convenience, and cost savings while upholding academic standards.

If you’re interested in how to secure your online assessments, contact us to find out how Inspera can help you.

Learn more

Read our ‘Guide to Online Exams and Assessments’ to get started with your institution’s digital transformation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Secure Online Exams

What is a Secure Exam?

A secure exam is a high-stakes assessment that is conducted under exam conditions that maintains the integrity of what it has been designed to test. That means the exam is administered in a way to eliminate cheating.

How are Online Exams Monitored?

Online exams are monitored through the use of a locked browser and proctoring software. A locked browser is a separate web browser or an app within an existing browser that prevents a candidate from accessing other applications or websites during an online exam or an assessment. The purpose of a locked browser is to allow faculty and administration to control the exam environment to match exam regulations.

Online proctored exams are a digital version of an invigilated exam room. During online proctored exams, students are monitored using a proctoring software, ensuring exam integrity is upheld. Just like an in-person proctor, online proctoring software allows you to check whether exam regulations are followed by candidates. Candidate behavior can be monitored using a webcam, microphone and screen recording.  The proctoring software flags suspected behavior for review by a human.