If I am using a test bank to formulate a test based on a textbook, should I be concerned about students getting access to the test bank? I have read that student use of a test bank is cheating, but I guess I don't agree with that 100%. If I am drawing test questions out of exercise sets, how is that any different? The test banks usually have hundreds of questions to choose from, so if the students are learning the test bank well enough that they can answer some fractional selection from that test bank, it seems like a win to me. If they are studying questions, at the end of the day they are learning. Or is that the wrong way to look at it?

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    This opens the possibility that they will be tested on questions they have previously discovered answers to. Luck will dictate which students studied questions you will use on the exams. High grades will become a conflation of students who did not have advance experience of the questions but who displayed strong independent problem solving skills, and students who may not be as strong at solving new problems but merely remembered the solution from previous study. Does this matter to you?
    – J...
    Mar 18, 2019 at 11:04
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    I'd note a test bank that allows pattern matching of the sort described in the linked article is a bad test bank. Do accounting test banks really not change the variables?
    – De Novo
    Mar 18, 2019 at 20:00
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    One thing: if you know the test bank is out there MAKE IT FULLY AVALIABLE, as in EVERY student gets it. Otherwise its heavily unfair to those who can't get a hold of it vs those who can. Also, design your test bank with the knowledge that it is public. Aka: too large to memorize completely, full-text-answers (which can't really be memorized) etc. Then it's perfectly fine, the Sociology Dept. at my uni does it and works fine, screw the article you linked
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 19, 2019 at 13:45
  • Possible experiment: prepare exams with some questions from test banks and some novel questions. Track scores on the two halves separately behind the scenes. Hypothesis: if some students are using test banks to get an advantage, a subset of students will show significantly higher scores on the 'test bank' questions relative to the median of their peers compared to their relative performance in the 'novel' questions set.
    – Dan Bryant
    Mar 19, 2019 at 19:15

8 Answers 8


As long as the test bank has enough questions to cover the material I'd not be concerned. Those who work at it will learn. I've given my own students "sample exams" for years, then put some of the sample questions on the real exam. The students who were going to earn grades of A anyway got them right. The students who were going to earn unsatisfactory grades anyway did not.

A colleague performed the experiment of handing out the course final exam a week before the exam date. Students were encouraged to get help studying, but then had to take the exam again in class. He says it did not change the grade distribution at all.

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    At one time there was a practice of giving the final exam during the first week of the course and again at the end. Presumably there was an expectation that the exam grades would improve.
    – Buffy
    Mar 17, 2019 at 20:43
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    Yes, I can confirm that such things happen: on many occasions, at all levels, as "review", I've essentially worked all the exam problems in class, but it never seems to have an impact on exam outcomes. :) Mar 17, 2019 at 20:43
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    That sounds like a crazy experiment to run. Did your colleague tell the students that that is the course final exam? I've also heard of a case where a hospital gave the same test to its nurses & doctors, and the well-trained doctors scored worse than the nurses. After investigating, it turned out the nurses had access to the questions beforehand and memorized the answers already.
    – Allure
    Mar 18, 2019 at 1:57
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    As a student I recall at least one course where we were given a full set of questions out of which we were drawing during the exam. It was covering all the material anyway but allowed to reduce the stress a little as you knew what kind of questions to expect or how they were formulated. Of course that works only as long as the test bank is extensive enough to enforce learning the whole material a student is expected to learn.
    – Ister
    Mar 18, 2019 at 8:58
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    I have taken a number of courses where the exhaustive set of questions was made available to students. I thought that practice was in fact quite encouraging, as it was clear what needed to be studied. Usually, the list of questions was quite long and they were very detailed. Working through it gave you a sort of "study progress meter", and in the end, I studied more than I would have without knowing the questions.
    – cheersmate
    Mar 18, 2019 at 9:07

If the test bank is generally available then assume they have all seen it. But better yet, IMO, is to point it out to them and recommend it as a resource for studying. Tell them that they shouldn't expect any of those exact questions on any test, but that it will give them insight into the kinds of things that the author (and maybe you) think are worth asking.

For your part, you can then use the bank as a source of ideas for questions, though probably less for the questions themselves. If that is your general practice, you can even salt exams with a few of the questions themselves, just to ease the burden.

Directed study guided by a test bank is good. It isn't the only thing that is important, but it gives them a start. Since this is most likely an entry level course for which such things exist it can mean that those that work the hardest get good marks.

In other words, I think your view of it is good and if you don't treat it as cheating then it won't be. But you might also warn them that not every professor will see it the same way, so they should use caution in extrapolating.

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    +1 for "point it out to them and recommend it as a resource for studying". By convention, using a test bank is generally considered academic dishonesty. If you don't consider it to be so for your exam, you should make sure students know this. Otherwise, you may penalize the more ethical students who would have otherwise studied from the test bank and performed better on the exam. Mar 18, 2019 at 9:45
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    @ShivamSarodia "By convention, using a test bank is generally considered academic dishonesty." That depends on the university. Some have official test banks of all previous exams. In mine, old exams were distributed by the professors themselves, or a collection curated by former students and publicly available.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 18, 2019 at 12:04
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    I don't think using test banks is unethical, but I also believe it is important to point out the existence of the test banks, to make sure that all students are aware of it, so as to level the playing field. All students should have access to the same learning materials.
    – tomasz
    Mar 18, 2019 at 12:51
  • @Davidmh Fair, I should have clarified I meant specifically test banks not provided by the professor/institution (such as those found on document-sharing websites online) Mar 19, 2019 at 18:44

(Expanding my comment to Bob Brown's question into an answer.)

From personal experience, I would say that knowing the questions is not a problem, and may even be helpful. It depends on the test bank, which needs to comprehensive.

As a student, a took a number of courses where the full set of questions was made available. In most cases, this meant a large number of questions covering all of the material and asking very detailed things. Having these questions had a number of advantages for me as a student:

  • Clarity in terms of what is relevant for the exam. Sometimes topics that I considered unimportant were covered by multiple questions, indicating that my assumption was wrong.
  • Providing feedback. Having access to an actual question helps me check whether I really understood a topic as well as I thought.
  • Providing a "study progress meter". Working through all the questions gives me a good idea how much studying I still have left.
  • Motivation for studying more. Having 100+ questions to work through actually motivates me to study more. Without them, I would potentially skim over some topics. (But maybe I'm just lazy.)

Some may argue that students only memorize the answers without understanding them. To counter this (supposed?) problem, in some exams the questions were slightly altered in the actual test.


I use the test bank to feed a quiz of 10 questions, each question comes from a category that has between 15 to 80 questions.

The students get access through a review quiz that has 10 questions with the same time limit as the real graded quiz of 10 questions. So, more practice = better grade...


If I am using a test bank to formulate a test based on a textbook, should I be concerned about students getting access to the test bank?

No more than you should be concerned about students getting copies of old test, which happens in (almost) every class. Fraternities and Sororities keep copies of old test, and students post them on the internet. Trying to keep all your test questions out of students hands is an already lost battle.

Ask students to show their work or explain their reasoning. That makes it a harder to memorize, and makes it more likely the student has to understand the question to answer it.

  • Hey man. I included a quote with a citation to the page in a blue-book exam where I definitely never saw the test before. Anything an be memorized.
    – Joshua
    Mar 19, 2019 at 15:51

The main concern as stated in some comments is that, depending on the subject, the students can memorize the answers without understanding them. One should not underestimate the ability of some people in memorizing! Even for a large data bank.


Drawing from personal experience, this depends on a few things:

  1. Are the answers to your questions easily memorized? For example, if your exam is multiple-choice, then making the test bank freely available means it's likely that students will start doing well. On the other hand, making the prompts of an essay-based exam available means the students must still do real preparation.

  2. How many questions are in your test bank? If there are a lot more questions than can realistically be studied (of course, this depends on the difficulty of the questions), you should be fine.

I know of one major exam that makes its test bank available: the GRE. Having the test bank available helps students prepare, since they gain some idea of what will be asked. There're also enough questions that it's not realistic for students to memorize answers for all of them (besides, they're essay questions).

For the other end, I once had an instructor say before the exam that there will be two questions each worth 50%, and one of which will be drawn from the homework assignments. As you might expect, most (although not all) of the class scored >50%. This happened even though the questions were complicated, calculation-intensive physics problems.


If this is for an online class, there is little to nothing you can do to stop such cheating. At one point, someone showed me how easy it is to get test bank answers online. There are places where students literally provide the questions and answers online to many test banks.

I once watched someone take a test for an online class where they copy/paste the questions into Google and would, in only a few seconds, easily find the exact same question online with the answer provided. Some people can finish such tests very rapidly and achieve perfect scores on everything in such test-bank-using online classes.

So, "Should I be concerned?" Yes, if it is an online class then you should be very concerned. Try Googling the test bank questions verbatim before using those questions to see how badly that test bank is compromised.

  • Must... not... publish... fake answers...
    – Ángel
    Mar 18, 2019 at 21:58
  • For online courses you can always have someone else solving the problems for you. But other than that tasks like "Write a 700-sign essay discussing different ways of defining distance between data points." work very well. It's pretty impossible to google up an essay that the prof won't be able to google within a few seconds as well so you just have to write your own thoughts. And with limited time you can only do that if you know the subject.
    – Džuris
    Mar 18, 2019 at 22:20

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