Good Practice Guides

A2. Designing Assessment Tasks to Minimise Plagiarism

General principles

The Code of Practice –Teaching and Assessment (Section 5.1.10) states that the design of assessment tasks should take into consideration the need to minimise opportunities for plagiarism and other forms of cheating. It is important, however, that emphasis in this area does not interfere with the quality of assessment design: the choice and design of assessment tasks must remain true to the expected learning outcomes while also minimising opportunities for plagiarism.

Problems and specific issues

There are two critical and complementary means for minimising plagiarism: the first is task design, and the second involves teaching students about plagiarism, and in particular, how to avoid it. As Carroll (2000 cited in James et al, 2002 p.44) argues, it is necessary to create a culture of “involvement and interest rather than one of merely detection and punishment”. The following suggestions are designed to assist you in achieving the aforementioned.

Examples of good practice

Develop a culture of involvement:

  • discuss the issue of plagiarism in class and make the students aware of the various definitions, instances and penalties;
  • provide instruction and resources that teach students the skills of paraphrasing, summarising, critical analysis, arguing and referencing (particularly if you have a first or second year subject). Ask Learning Development staff to work with you on this; and
  • direct students to references and guidelines relevant to your academic area.

Written assessment tasks:

1. Make the task so specific that students are unable to simply download from the web: for example:

  • choose a topical question and ask students to argue something specific about it (Eg. The current Australian Government’s treatment of refugees is an international human rights issue. Do you agree or disagree? Support your argument with evidence.);
  • base it on a particular journal article or newspaper article (Eg. Critically evaluate the Hardaker & Ward (1997) article in light of the information presented in the other six recommended readings.);
  • ask students to relate particular theories/concepts to events/ issues in current newspaper articles (Eg. Find an article relating to one of the concepts presented in the lecture series. Analyse and comment on it in light of your learning so far this session.);
  • use case studies;
  • get students to integrate theory and experience (eg. field trips, practicums, reflective writing); and
  • ask students to analyse and report on specific aspects of a local/ national company.

2. Stage the assessment tasks, so that students develop skills related to their use of source material throughout the course; for example:

  • to prepare students for ‘Assignment 1: Critical evaluation of three given articles’, teach the students to critically evaluate an article in class earlier in session and have them write it up and hand it in for feedback; or as part of tutorial preparation, ask students to bring a summary of at least one essential reading and collect them at random for marking – give students feedback on their summarising skills;
  • arrange the assessment task so that students need to hand in several drafts of the essay (Stefani & Carroll, 2001);
  • ask students to make brief presentations to the class based on their written assignments; and
  • ask students to submit an annotated bibliography either before or when the essay is due.

Group Work:

Group work is intended to encourage cooperative learning and teamwork skills, and this can be achieved if the task is well-designed and clearly communicated to students. Concern about copying must be dealt with initially in the delivery of the assessment task. Related to plagiarism is the fact that some students may over-rely on other group members to do the majority of the work while they all receive the same mark.

  • Be clear about the purpose of setting the task, the expected learning process and the outcomes (product and process).
  • In class and in the subject outline, make the marking criteria explicit.
  • Clearly explain the difference between collaboration and copying.
  • Ask the students to submit individual assignments.
  • Ask students to write a short reflective paper on what they learnt from the process, or use reflective journals for the same purpose.
  • Include a peer assessment component with the assessment.

Example: ACCY102 – Group contract/ Group report/ Individual portfolio and reflective piece.

In-session tests and short answer quizzes:

Where testing is conducted during session in lecture theatres or classrooms, copying can be an issue. Where possible, you may do the following:

  • Ask students to sit with at least one space between them in lecture theatres and classrooms.
  • For electronic quizzes, randomise questions and answers.
  • For paper-based tests, vary the sequence of questions on several versions of the same paper, and systematically distribute the different versions to the class.

Exam - MCQ, true / false:

Concern with multiple choice testing in the exam situation relates to the ease with which patterns of dots (on MCQ answer sheets) or circling for true/false questions may be easily copied, particularly in crowded conditions. To make such copying more difficult, you might:

  • Randomise the questions on several versions of the exam paper and systematically distribute the different papers to the class.

Seminar or tutorial presentations:

At the heart of the issue of plagiarism in seminar presentations is the students’ citation of evidence, particularly when a paper is not required. Like writing, a good presentation should be clear about where the evidence has been sourced, yet such an expectation is often not mentioned when this type of assessment task is set. The following suggestions may help.

  • Make your expectations clear in writing and verbally.
  • Develop and communicate the marking criteria to students and include a criterion related to citation/ referencing.
  • Where a paper is not required, ask students to hand in an annotated bibliography or similar, identifying where they sourced their information.
  • Where appropriate and feasible, model for students the behaviour expected or teach them explicitly.

Projects and theses:

While thesis work is invariably an individual effort, project work may involve a group of individuals. Thus, while concern regarding the use and citation of evidence is common to both, authenticity is also a consideration of the latter. For concerns relating to group work, see Section 5B of this document. For other concerns with regard to project and thesis work, you might consider the following:

  • Ask students to regularly hand in samples of their notes and use these to give them feedback on their identification of key ‘issues’ and their integration of these into their work.
  • Ask for an annotated bibliography for each section/ chapter.
  • Ask students to keep a log book of their learning throughout the project/ thesis.
Last reviewed: 11 July, 2014