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What Should Be Done About Students Buying a Test Bank

Are Students Responsible or Instructors?

Last week I received a notification from the American Accounting Association that said: “As you may know, most textbook publisher’s test banks and solution manuals can be purchased online or are free, which cause an unlevel playing field for students.” The Association asked for volunteers to form a committee with the goal of preparing a series of new multiple choice and true/false questions that, presumably, couldn’t be accessed and bought on line.

Websites offer plenty of ways to buy textbook instructors' manuals that include "test banks" — questions and answers provided by textbook publishers to professors. Professors sometimes use these test banks to devise their own tests. Shame on them for not adjusting their style of testing given the ready availability of test banks.

Back in 2010 a cheating scandal was uncovered at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Administrators said one or more students in a senior-level business class purchased a test bank for the textbook "Strategic Management: A Dynamic Perspective Concept and Cases." Then it was shared with some 200 classmates in the strategic management class. The course instructor used that same 300-question test bank — which he thought secure — to create his midterm exam.

The grades on the midterm were unusually high, and UCF soon had a cheating scandal that made national news.

The incident sparked debates about academic integrity and questions about whether test banks are legitimate study guides or unethical glimpses at potential exams. To me, this is a no-brainer. It’s cheating because the goal (intention for one’s action) is to gain an unfair advantage over other students who play by the rules. It creates an unlevel playing field.

UCF found that the students involved committed academic misconduct, but it was an isolated incident at a university regarded as a national leader in the effort to combat cheating, said Provost Tony Waldrop. Waldrop said that in the wake of the business class incident, he has put together a "working group" to suggest ways UCF can improve its existing "safeguards."

Donald McCabe, a business professor at Rutgers University who studies cheating on college campuses, said the UCF case is one of the biggest in recent years but also not clear cut. Students studying the test bank might not have known the exact questions would be on their midterm.

"If they thought they were using it as a study guide, it's hard to argue they were blatantly cheating," McCabe said. McCabe is wrong because our ethical behavior (or unethical behavior) is determined based on our intentions. Saying the students might not have known the exact questions is a rationalization for an unethical action. Shame on Professor McCabe for not knowing the difference.

Still, McCabe said his surveys on college cheating suggest the problem is serious and perhaps getting worse. About 21 percent of students admit to serious test cheating, with more problems on large campuses and in large lecture classes.  Book

Today's students seem to feel "less guilty about taking short cuts" to get good grades, he said, and test banks are one of the newest ways students try to get ahead. Here, I agree with the professor because the cheating students’ actions illustrate an end justifies the means approach to decision making. It didn’t matter to the students that they were cheating as long as buying the text bank enabled them, to maximize their course grade. 

I have an accounting ethics textbook titled Ethical Obligations and Decision Making in Accounting: Text and Cases. I Googled buying the test bank for the book and a few sights came right up. On one sight, it would cost $24.99, a reduction from $34.99 (undoubtedly because the test bank is out there so supply exceeds new demand). I’ve known about this for a while and always get depressed when I find out students in my accounting ethics class bought the test bank.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 4, 2018. Visit Dr. Mintz’s website to sign up for his newsletter.