Universities impose academic standards with the hope of evening the performance field for each student. These standards extend to all types of academic tests, which are a critical component of the academic college experience.
Testing conditions are not the same for every student, though. Remote learning has taken students out of closely monitored classroom environments and, in many cases, left them to their own devices. Certain students also receive accommodations that alter testing conditions.
Most universities have the same general rules when it comes to testing—don't cheat, don't distract other test-takers, don't take longer than the allowed time to complete the exam, and abide by all other testing conditions. A grey area does exist when it comes to permitted behaviors, though. You may be facing serious sanctions because of a misunderstanding of the rules or an outright lapse in judgment.
Hiring attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento is the first step in combating any allegation of test-related wrongdoing. Attorney Lento and his team have unparalleled experience with student misconduct issues at universities nationwide. If you've been accused of violating testing conditions, the Lento Law Firm can help defend you.
What Qualifies as a Test?
Harvard University’s 2021 Student Handbook recognizes several types of “exams” (also known as tests) that may affect your academic performance. Exam types include:
- “Hour” exams
- Midterm exams
- Open-book exams
- Online exams proctored by a remote monitoring service
Your own university may administer other types of tests. College students—graduate students in particular—may face oral examinations (lawyers), skill-related examinations (doctors and nurses), term essays, and other non-traditional examinations.
Each type of exam may have specific testing conditions. As a university student, you must be aware of specific conditions for each assignment that you take.
What Does “Testing Conditions” Mean?
The term “testing conditions” alludes to the total environment around a test, including but not limited to:
- The time allowed to complete the test
- The medium used to administer and record answers
- The number and spacing of students in a testing room
- The auditory conditions inside and outside of the testing environment
- The tools you are permitted or prohibited from using during your test
When we speak of “violating testing conditions,” however, we generally refer specifically to test rules.
Do Remote Examinations Have Different Testing Conditions?
Taking an exam remotely is categorically different from an examination in a classroom. Conditions present in remote examinations that are not generally present during in-classroom testing include:
- The absence of an in-person proctor
- A largely unmonitored testing room (the proctor only sees the portion of the testing room that the camera lens captures)
- The use of a computer for test-taking purposes
Some remote examinations may be completely unmonitored or only partially monitored. Remote test takers may still be expected to adhere to certain conditions—including refraining from any form of academic misconduct.
EdX Online Learning provides many rules for remote learners. EdX's requirements may be similar to remote testing conditions imposed by your university. EdX's remote testing conditions require:
- Presentation of a valid photo ID to confirm your identity
- Installation and updates of required proctoring and test-taking software
- Completion of a software onboarding process
- Specification of the exact room that you will take the test in
- Absence of other people in the room where you are taking a test
- A minimum amount of lighting in the testing room (so that the remote proctor can view you clearly)
- A “clean” test-taking desk or table
- A specific type of computer free of any open programs or applications
- Specific modes of dress and behavior
- A “quiet” testing room
- The absence of phones, writing implements, books, paper, and several other prohibited items while you are taking your exam
These conditions are detailed and numerous, exposing you to a great risk of violating the rules—either intentionally or unintentionally. Even something out of your control, like a roommate unexpectedly entering the testing area, could violate testing conditions.
Violating the most innocuous remote testing condition could result in a failing grade and further sanctions from your school.
Potential Violations of Remote Testing Conditions
Findings from The World Bank show that widespread remote learning has put a strain on students and professors alike. Students may find learning more difficult without direct access to professors, and opportunities to cheat may be constant.
Yale University notes how “improper collaboration” is a risk when students complete coursework outside of the classroom. Other prohibited conduct for remote test takers may include:
- Browsing the internet while taking a test
- Having any non-browser application open while taking a test
- Allowing another person to be in the room
- Using a cell phone or other digital device while taking a test
- Having a textbook, notes, or scrap paper within reach during the test
- Posting answers strategically within a testing area so that you can view them during the testing period
- Having insufficient lighting during the testing period
- Covering or disabling your computer camera so that a remote proctor cannot see you
Remote students may cheat in many of the same ways that in-classroom test-takers can. Receiving test material in advance of an exam can benefit both in-classroom and remote test takers.
There is no doubt, though, that remote examinations test students' willpower to a greater extent than in-classroom examinations do.
Statistics Illustrate the Heightened Risk of Cheating on Remote Work
As unprecedented social conditions prompted mass migration to remote learning platforms, a correlated rise in academic misconduct emerged. Though there are signs of improvement from remote proctoring services, cheating remains a serious problem among remote learners.
- Some students and parents do not view cheating on remote assignments as improper, signaling a serious disconnect between university policies and perceptions of remote learning. (Wall Street Journal)
- The rate of cheating for remote exams monitored by ProctorU rose above 8% as remote learning became more mainstream. (The Washington Post)
- The shift to remote learning has accompanied a spike in Honor Code violations at Stanford University (and other schools). (The Stanford Daily)
Even when students don't cheat on their remote exams, professors often suspect them of academic dishonesty. This distrust increases the possibility of students like you being falsely accused of violating remote testing conditions.
Remote learning has presented a stable of new problems that an experienced attorney-advisor can respond to appropriately.
You May Have Been Penalized for Flaws in Remote Learning Systems
Remote learning does not only present a risk of student misconduct. The increased reliance on digital systems can negatively affect students through no fault of their own.
Harvard Business Review explains that less than 5% of university budgets go towards information technology (IT). When technical glitches and other failures impact remote learning, students may pay the price.
Remote students may experience negative outcomes because:
- A remote proctor (human or AI) makes an inaccurate ruling
- Remote testing software prevents them from logging in for an exam
- Remote testing software shuts down in the middle of an examination
- Remote testing software fails to record answers or reports the wrong student responses
- Internet outages prevent the student from taking an examination, resulting in a failing grade
Remote learning presents countless variables beyond the student's control. When one of these variables causes an adverse outcome, the onus generally falls upon the student to correct the problem.
You may have recourse if remote testing conditions failed you. Whether you were issued a failing grade or penalized in another manner, an attorney-advisor will work to rectify the harm you have experienced.
Potential Violations of In-Classroom Testing Conditions
Examinations do still take place in classrooms. When you do take an exam in a classroom setting (or classroom-like setting), you must generally refrain from:
- Accessing your cell phone during the testing period
- Speaking with other students who are taking the exam
- Using headphones
- Using textbooks, notes, or cheat sheets
- Leaving the examination room unless permitted to do so
- Bringing exam materials outside of the testing room
- Copying another student's work
Any violation of in-classroom testing conditions may instigate your university's adjudication procedures.
What Do Proctors Look for When You Take a Test?
Exam proctors, whether remote or in-person, look for clear or circumstantial evidence of academic misconduct.
What Do Remote Proctors Look for?
Remote proctors may flag you for cheating if:
- You exhibit unusual eye movements
- The camera captures you using notes or digital devices
- Your computer microphone captures you speaking, whether it is to another person, a smart device, or in any suspicious manner
- The reflection of your computer screen indicates that you are accessing prohibited software, apps, or websites
- Your exam answers match too closely with another student's or exhibit a suspicious response pattern
- You exhibit any other suspicious activity
“Evidence” of remote cheating may generally be circumstantial. Your eye movements, for example, are not irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing. Universities may only require circumstantial evidence to proceed with disciplinary action. Without an attorney-advisor’s defense, you may suffer consequences even if you have not clearly violated testing conditions.
What Do In-Person Proctors Look for?
In-person exam proctors may flag many of the same indicators as remote proctors—suspicious eye movements, the presence of notes or digital devices, and prohibited conversations being among those indicators.
An in-person proctor may also report you for violating test conditions if:
- They discover you outside of the exam room with test materials in your possession
- They witness you copying another student's answers
- They see you providing answers to another student (whether through strategic test positioning or other means)
- They find you in possession of a cheat sheet or an unauthorized copy of the exam
- They decide that you violated testing conditions in any other way
Even if a proctors' determination is wrong, the university will generally take their word at face value. Expect disciplinary procedures to commence if a proctor flags you for any type of academic wrongdoing.
You May Have Been the Victim of Unreasonable Testing Conditions
In-classroom testing conditions can be unreasonable, causing a subpar performance on your examination. You may have grounds to retake your examination if:
- There was a disturbance in the testing room, such as an alarm, an unexpected intrusion, a persistent and distracting noise, or any other harmful element.
- There was a disturbance just outside of the testing room, such as a significant storm, maintenance crew, or other distraction.
- Another student badgered you during the exam
- The proctor engaged in distracting behavior
- The proctor did not start the testing period on time
- Your exam materials were flawed in some way
- Any other testing condition outside of your control hindered your performance on an exam
As a tuition-paying student with much riding on your exam scores, you have a reasonable expectation of acceptable testing conditions. Some students even have a right to special testing conditions.
American Universities Must Honor Students' Special Accommodations
Universities must accommodate students with disabilities. This generally means adjusting testing conditions to “level the playing field,” eliminating any advantage that one student may have over another because of certain testing conditions.
If your university failed to recognize special testing accommodations, then you may have underperformed on your examination. If you refused to comply with the denial of your accommodations, then you may be facing sanctions as a consequence. In either case, you may need to take action to make the situation right.
Special testing accommodations recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division include:
- Large-print exam materials
- Extended testing time
- A distraction-free testing environment
- Permission to take certain medication during the exam period
- Other accommodations specific to your special circumstance
If you have personal or academic conflicts with an exam, then you may have the right to take the exam at a specified date or time. If a professor fails to recognize a legitimate conflict, then you may unfairly receive a failing grade. You may have recourse to retake the test and receive a legitimate grade.
You may be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If we can prove abridgment of your right to special testing conditions, then the university may dismiss any pending sanctions against you. You may also have options if you underperformed or failed a test because of insufficient accommodations. You may retake the exam with accommodations in place.
Possible Sanctions for Violating University Testing Conditions
Individual universities may differ in how they view a violation of testing conditions. Many schools—especially those with a strong academic reputation—may have a no-tolerance policy. You may realistically face suspension or dismissal for your pending misconduct allegations.
The University of Florida provides a representative sample of sanctions for violating testing conditions. Your university may issue a similar range of sanctions against you, including:
This is a permanent separation from the university without the ability to re-enroll “at any time.” This is generally the most severe sanction that your university may issue. Expulsion may cause an immense financial burden, hinder your enrollment in other universities, and worsen your career prospects.
After your suspension lapses or you meet the criteria for re-entry, then you may resume your studies. A suspension may mar your student record, though. A formal notice of suspension or a gap in your transcript will be a red flag to prospective employers, graduate school committees, and accreditation boards.
A deferred suspension may be similar to probation. You may be subject to heightened scrutiny, required to abide by specific criteria, and vulnerable to suspension for the slightest infraction.
Probation is a notice that you are in poor standing with your university. You may face performance requirements that other students do not. You may also face serious sanctions for any infractions that you commit while on probation.
Similar to probation, a conduct review will put you under the university's magnifying glass for a specified period of time. You may have to meet regularly with faculty to discuss your academic performance and general compliance with university policies. Though not as serious as suspension, expulsion, or even probation, a conduct review may exist permanently on your record.
This is the least punitive of the non-academic sanctions. It is a tangible notice of discipline by your university—this can be enough to cause serious harm to your reputation and goals.
Various academic sanctions
Your university may fail you on an assignment, fail you in an entire course, drop you from a course, or issue other academic sanctions. Having any failing grade on your record is a major detriment, especially to students who have otherwise impressive transcripts. A failing grade may be a clear indication that you did something against school policy to warrant the failing mark.
You should fight any type of sanction if you value your candidacy for graduate school and future jobs.
The Consequences of Academic Sanctions Can Be Lifelong
Students accused of violating testing conditions may first think about academic sanctions. This is natural. However, you should also consider how long-ranging the impact of sanctions—particularly serious ones—may be.
Consider first that university graduates today are finding fewer job opportunities in a rapidly changing economic landscape. An academic record tainted by sanctions may shrink your pool of job offers even further. If you aren't enrolled at an elite university, then the odds of securing a high-paying job upon graduation may already be unfavorable. Sanctions on your student record can only decrease those odds even further.
If you are expelled from your university, then the negative implications are even greater. Researchers have found that:
- On average, college dropouts earn $21,000 less per year than college graduates.
- On average, those with a bachelor's degree earn nearly $35 per hour, while those with only “some” college education earn only about $21 per hour.
- 46.5% of those who fail to complete college and have student debt are in default on that debt
Being expelled from your university could render you a dropout, even if your departure from college is involuntary. Statistics show that you may become a less attractive job prospect with lower earning power.
The negative implications for your mental health, physical health, and general happiness are also significant. These figures should help you understand the importance of your defense against allegations of misconduct.
What Should You Do as a University Student Accused of Violating Testing Conditions?
The first step you can take is to hire attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento. He and his team specialize in student defense cases. They will begin your defense as soon as possible, allowing you to focus on your studies and personal responsibilities.
In addition to hiring an attorney-advisor, you may also:
1. Admit no wrongdoing
Once you admit to wrongdoing, then you may lose all leverage in your defense. Even if you have violated testing conditions and would like to admit as much, the wording and timing of your admission is critical. The way that you explain yourself could be the difference between minor and serious sanctions such as expulsion.
All is not lost if you have already admitted to wrongdoing. An attorney-advisor may clarify your position or appeal a ruling to seek the most positive outcome.
2. Do not speak with anyone who could cause you harm
Certain professors, administrators, and students may testify against you during disciplinary proceedings. Keep this in mind as you determine who to speak with and which topics to discuss. Now is a time for extreme restraint, particularly if you have yet to retain an attorney-advisor.
3. Focus on what you can control
The allegation that you violated testing conditions can cause significant anxiety. You still have the opportunity to defend yourself. Focus on what you can control, starting with hiring an attorney-advisor. Once you have retained an advisor, then you have exercised your power to control your case outcome.
Your advisor can instruct you further. They will research your university's policies and procedures, as well as the specifics of your case. They will then form a strategy to achieve your target case result.
What Is the Disciplinary Process When You're Accused of Violating Testing Conditions?
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) provides its students with a flowchart detailing the process for student discipline. This process may be similar to adjudication procedures at your own school, though certain details are almost certainly different.
When a UCLA student is accused of wrongdoing—including a violation of testing conditions—then the Dean of Students' Office handles the case. The student may respond to the Dean's inquiry by:
1. Admitting to the allegations, or:
2. Denying the allegations
If the student admits to violating testing conditions, then the Dean of Students will issue sanctions. If the sanctions include either suspension or dismissal from UCLA, then the student can appeal the ruling. The Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs will oversee the appeal, making a final decision on the matter.
If the student denies the allegations, then the Dean of Student Affairs may:
1. Find sufficient evidence to refer the case to the Student Conduct Committee for a hearing, or:
2. Find insufficient evidence of wrongdoing and dismiss the case
The person who is presiding over your case may face similar options.
What Does a Disciplinary Hearing Entail?
Remember that every university's disciplinary procedures are different. Consult your student handbook or equivalent documentation to determine exactly what your school's disciplinary policies and procedures are.
For consistency's sake, we will continue using UCLA’s Student Conduct Code as an example of disciplinary proceedings. When the Dean refers a case of alleged misconduct to UCLA's Student Conduct Committee, then a Hearing Coordinator schedules and coordinates the hearing. A Hearing Administrator will “administer the proceedings of matters related to the Student Conduct Committee.”
Once the Coordinator sets a hearing date, then:
- The accused student receives notice of their hearing date and time.
- The accused student may have the chance to review any case-related documents (i.e., evidence) that the Student Conduct Committee has in its possession
- The accused student will participate in their hearing, possibly questioning witnesses, presenting their own evidence and witnesses, and making a summary case. In the case of UCLA and many other schools, their attorney-advisor can lead the hearing.
- The accused student will receive a decision from the Student Conduct Committee within ten days of their hearing.
This process is a blueprint for what you may expect in your own case.
UCLA's Student Conduct Code states that “A Student may be accompanied by their Advisor at any meeting or proceeding that is part of the review process.” Your attorney-advisor may play a pivotal role in your own hearing. They will make a case for finding you not culpable or for granting you leniency.
What Level of Proof Is Required to Find You Responsible for Violating Testing Conditions?
The typical standard for determining a student's culpability is the “preponderance of evidence.” This standard requires a disciplinary body to ask: is it more likely that this person is responsible for the alleged infraction, or is it more likely that they are not responsible for the infraction?
This is the standard the UCLA and many other universities use in student misconduct cases. Your attorney-advisor will quickly determine the standard of proof that your university relies upon.
Can You Appeal Your University's Disciplinary Ruling?
Most universities allow you to appeal disciplinary rulings. This is especially true when a case involves suspension or expulsion.
Northwestern University's appeal framework may reflect how your own university handles appeals. Northwestern allows for appeals (see p.10) on the grounds of:
- Discovery of new information “that could not have reasonably been available at the time of the hearing and is of a nature that could materially change the outcome [of a disciplinary hearing].”
- Procedural errors that may have resulted in an unfair ruling
- A ruling being in clear contrast to the arguments and evidence presented during the disciplinary process
You must generally file an appeal within a short timeframe following an initial disciplinary ruling. An appointed individual will review your request for appeal. If the reviewer of your appeal finds sufficient grounds, then they may issue their own findings. The reviewer's findings may include:
- A favorable ruling, which may result in dismissal of your case
- An altered ruling, which may result in lesser sanctions or no sanctions at all
- A confirmed or unchanged ruling, which may produce no change to your sanctions
An appeal is generally worthwhile for any student who receives sanctions. The same attorney-advisor who led your defense can also handle your appeal.
Why Hire an Attorney-Advisor If You're Accused of Violating Test Conditions?
Students who face academic sanctions face far, far more than that. The outcome of your disciplinary case could have ramifications for your career, earning power, self-image, contentment, and personal relationships. The stakes of your disciplinary case may be far greater than you initially realized.
By hiring an attorney-advisor, you will know that you did everything you could to defend yourself. Your advisor will protect your rights and present a passionate defense. Joseph D. Lento understands what is at risk when you face serious sanctions, and he will fight hard for you.
Call the Lento Law Firm Today
Attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento has spent many years defending college students across the United States in their darkest times. He understands that young people make mistakes and that universities are often in the wrong. Oftentimes, students do not receive the due process that they deserve—Joseph Lento ensures that each of his clients receive a fair shake.
The Lento Law Firm will handle your case from your initial phone call through any necessary appeal. We will act with the necessary urgency, gathering the facts of your case and reaching out to those who will decide your case outcome.
It does not matter whether you've violated testing conditions or have been unjustly accused of wrongdoing. The Lento Law Firm can help you in either instance. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.
The window to prepare your defense may be closing with each passing minute. Call our team as soon as you can. You may also contact us online to submit your request for representation.