Professors shouldn’t consider using test banks cheating

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Photo Credit: Grey Rauscher | Daily Texan Staff

Test banks are a compilation of a professor’s test questions from past semesters. When students are either given back an exam or allowed to leave the class with it, some students put the questions from these tests into a database for future students of the same class to use. 

Many students create and use test banks to study for exams, but there is debate over the ethics of using test banks and whether or not UT should consider this practice cheating.

There is no University-wide policy regarding test banks, according to Sara Kennedy, manager of strategic and executive communications at the Office of the Dean of the Students. Policies vary classroom to classroom based on what each professor allows for their respective class. 

According to Kennedy, students are free to use past exams to study only if their professor allows it. “However, if the faculty member does not allow it, then it is a violation,” Kennedy said. This means students can be found guilty of academic dishonesty for using test banks, even if the questions come from exams that a professor voluntarily handed back or did not collect. It all depends on professors’ individual policies.

Hacking into a professor’s computer or breaking into a professor’s office to steal an exam should absolutely be considered academic dishonesty. However, UT should not consider it cheating when students compile questions from past exams that a professor allowed their students to keep, regardless of a professor’s unique policy.

Any professor that gives back or fails to collect exams should expect that future students can and will use these exams as a resource when studying. If professors do not want this to happen, they should either make sure exams stay inside the classroom or come up with new questions for future tests. 

Students have also been taught that one of the most effective ways to study is with practice quizzes and self-testing. Therefore, using old test questions to study should be encouraged rather than frowned upon.

Don Winget, an astronomy professor who gives students quizzes from past semesters to use when studying, said test banks can be valuable because they help students know what to study, which reduces student anxiety.

“As a student … it seems arbitrary and limitless the possible things you might (be) asked about,” Winget said. “(Past exams) tell
(students) what kind of things are important.”

While Winget, who has been a professor for 38 years, acknowledges that writing new questions each semester can be a lot of work, he said he doesn’t take issue with doing so because the field of knowledge for astronomy is always changing and the information he covers varies each semester.

“(There’s) an evolving knowledge base,” Winget said. “That means you’re going to have to come up with new questions because you didn’t talk about (it) before.”

Students should have the freedom to study in a way that works for them. For many students, practice quizzes and questions are their best way to prepare for a test. The University should not give professors the power to make their own unique policies to dictate when students can get in trouble for using old exam questions obtained legally. If professors are truly against students benefiting from test banks, they can always individually collect tests after exams or rewrite their tests.

Corwin is a journalism sophomore from Long Island, NY.