1. Burns, Carolyn M. DNP, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Article Content

Many faculty rely on prepackaged text book examination questions as a convenient product for student academic assessment. Faculty at a Midwest university were suspicious when the rumor mill stated that some students were in possession of the test bank for a nursing course. Although faculty initially dismissed this notion, I was shocked when I searched auction sites for nursing test banks. Simply by doing a search for nursing test banks, 12 pages with more than 70 listings appeared for sale. This is critical information that faculty members must consider because their test integrity may be compromised.


It wasn't until I left the university setting 6 months ago that my suspicions were confirmed. Three students reported that they knew of students who had purchased several of the test banks to many of the nursing classes offered at the university. All of these students were offered a copy of the test banks but refused. When asked why they did not report the offenders, the response was fear of retaliation.


The real horror is imaging what kind of nurses some will make who cheated their way through nursing school. How will they pass their nursing board examinations when they have only memorized answers and not learned information? Memorizing answers to test questions ultimately set them up for failure to achieve their long-term goal of being responsible and productive persons and in their role as ethical and moral nurses.


A search using CINAHL, HealthSource, Health Business Fulltext, MEDLINE, ERIC, and Google using the words "test bank" or "testbank" was conducted. Most database results said a test bank was available or tested the test bank for effectiveness. A search was also conducted for the terms "cheat" and "academic" or "higher education" or "university" or "college" or some other synonym. All of the databases lumped cheating on tests with plagiarism and other forms of breeches in academic integrity. No one has examined the issue of the selling of test banks and the impact on nursing education.


Most auction sites have a prohibited or restricted items list. Examples include firearms, weapons and knives, surveillance equipment, human body parts and remains, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Teacher edition textbooks are also listed as a prohibited item. Auction sellers are warned by the company that their item is subject to certain restrictions and that they are ultimately responsible for making sure that selling an item is legal in the eyes of the law. Violations of this policy may result in a range of actions including listing cancellation, forfeit of auction fees on cancelled listings, limits on account privileges, or account suspension.


Although auction sites have a mechanism to report a prohibited or restricted item, there is no internal security control mechanism to control the items from being auctioned in the first place. Auction sites rely on the buyers themselves to report prohibited items. When an item is reported, the reporting individual receives an automated response thanking them for alerting the company to this possible violation and assures the individual that a thorough review will be conducted. The problem with this approach is that by the time a report is made and a review is done, the item has already been sold. This former faculty member reported a test bank for auction she used for her nursing class, and it sold for $71.00 2 hours later. Buyers are able to see when an item is sold, the selling price, and who purchased the item. Oftentimes, the buyer's name is a nickname or written in code. Because of the company's privacy policy, they cannot share any action taken by the company related to this listing.


Because of millions of listings available on eBay, the company is unable to review every listing posted (Terri from the office of the former president of eBay, Meg Whitman, written communication, January 24, 2008). She stated that eBay relies on reports from members to help them maintain the safety and security of their community. This "community watch" approach to overseeing the sale of test banks is inadequate. One wonders if these community-watch reporting systems are not just cosmetic facade because it would be expensive to hire people to review products before they enter the auction. Auction companies are allowing students to "bid or buy it now" on items that will help them cheat their way through college. In addition, copyright laws are being broken as these test banks are bootlegged.


In the university's Faculty Guide to Academic Integrity, there was no mention made of prohibiting the purchase of teacher edition textbooks or test banks.1 In the section devoted to technology and cheating, devices such as a cellular telephone/camera, a PDA or a laptop, or any instrument that can transmit information during an examination were addressed. Purchasing the answers to a test was not covered in a review of 4 other universities' policies on academic integrity.2-5 It is recommended that educators review their institution policy to see if this topic is covered.


To reduce opportunities to cheat, the following suggestions are offered:


1. Nursing educators are tasked with developing curricula for students that integrate critical content with ethical and moral behavior, in addition to teaching them the need to abide by an acceptable code of professional practice. Students must to be taught appropriate behavior and what constitutes cheating and the consequences for violating the rules. If faculty stress the importance of integrity from the time they recruit students until graduation, students' expectations about how they are expected to behave will change.


2. Revise test bank questions by changing the wording of the question and/or the answer selection. Students who possess the test bank will less likely achieve the results they desire. Knowing the test bank will not provide them the answers to your test may force them to perform a task they did not want to do before-study.


3. Make multiple versions of examinations. Make different examinations for the same class of students by reordering because auditorium seating makes it easy for eyes to wander.


4. Use questions from multiple test banks. No student can possibly hold all of the test banks for a particular subject matter. Educators have the ability to request desk copies of textbooks for review. Expand the pool of questions by using multiple sources.


5. Make up test questions. This too is an option, but one must keep in mind to ensure that the validity and reliability of test questions and answers are not compromised.


6. Implement an honor code classroom. Research by McCabe et al6 has shown that honor code classrooms are generally associated with lower levels of student academic dishonesty. Kansas State University uses an honor pledge where students acknowledge that one's work is performed honestly and without assistance.7 This applies to all assignments, examinations, or other course work completed by the student. Arnold et al8 found that students in an honor code classroom were more likely to report cheating and not help another student cheat than non-honor code classroom ones.



Faculty should contact the publishers of the textbooks they are using and inquire how they are ensuring the integrity of their test banks. When I found my test banks on eBay, I notified the publishing companies of the textbooks I was using. As a result of these contacts, Pearson is encouraging faculty to actively protest to eBay for selling teacher edition textbooks and test banks. Pearson is distributing postcards to faculty that are addressed to eBay's new chief executive officer, Edward Torpoco. The postcards urge that the purchase of secure test instruments be limited to trained and qualified professionals and ask for an educator's signature. Pearson is to be applauded for its campaign to stop eBay from auctioning off-caches of test answers.


Please contact the Pearson Clinical Assessment Group at 1-800-211-8378 for more information.




1. Indiana State University Faculty Guide to Academic Integrity, 2008-2009. Accessed June 15, 2008. [Context Link]


2. Penn State Current Academic Integrity. Accessed December 19, 2008. [Context Link]


3. University of Missouri Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities. Accessed December 15, 2008. [Context Link]


4. UNC Charlotte Academic Integrity. Accessed November 16, 2008. [Context Link]


5. DePaul Academic Integrity. Accessed October 31, 2008. [Context Link]


6. McCabe D, Trevio L, Butterfield K. Honor codes and other contextual influences on academic integrity: a replication and extension to modified honor code settings. Res High Educ. 2002;43(3):357-378. [Context Link]


7. Kansas State University Undergraduate Catalog, 2006-2008. Accessed December 1, 2008. [Context Link]


8. Arnold R, Martin B, Jinks M, Bigby L. Is there a relationship between honor codes and academic honesty? J Coll Character. 2007;8:1-20. [Context Link]