I organized my students to take their exams in the school’s computer labs. Some students finished well before others. In each section, I tried different policies for what students should do in this situation, but none worked very well.

  1. I let one section of students leave when they finished, but make much noise while moving their chairs and gathering their things. Furthermore, I am concerned that students will find ways to cheat, e.g. leave and access the Web-based testing system from their iPod.

  2. I let one section do as they like on the computers when they finished, but this made it difficult to determine who was finished and who was using resources to cheat on the exams.

  3. I gave one section some extra credit work to do if they finished early, but many students did other homework instead, which led to similar difficulty in determining who was finished or cheating.

What is a good policy that does not cause interruption to other students but also does not hinder proctoring efforts?

  • 11
    In a written exam, you could allow the student to hand in their paper and then retrieve a book (that they left up the front of the room) to read until the exam is finished. If you can finalize the submission of an electronic exam before the exam time is up, perhaps you can do a similar thing.
    – Moriarty
    Nov 3, 2014 at 11:13
  • 8
    In the first case: Did most of the disturbance happen shortly before the end of the exam? It’s due to this that we do not allow students to leave early in the last 15 minutes of the exam time at my university.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Nov 3, 2014 at 11:17
  • 19
    I'm surprised your institution discourages leaving early. Students that are finished don't need to be monitored for cheating as opposed to keeping them there and watching them fidget for another hour. In all of my grad and undergrad classes we were allowed to leave as soon as we were done. Hopefully, by this level of education, the students will understand that reasonable time spent on the exam does not relate to grade on the exam.
    – Compass
    Nov 3, 2014 at 15:40
  • 31
    @Trylks: I strenuously disagree. I think exams that are designed to take longer than the time available are a terrible idea pedagogically, regardless of how they are scored. Nov 3, 2014 at 16:55
  • 41
    Jeez. Just let them leave.
    – JeffE
    Nov 4, 2014 at 2:26

11 Answers 11


Why were the students leaving early disruptive? Under the rules of every institution that I've been at you are under exam conditions until you leave the room. They should be utterly silent and respectful to other students or face the usual penalties for breaking the rules of exam conditions.

If you're not happy with them leaving early I'm not sure why you would do anything to occupy them. Make them sit in silence and wait for the the exam to finish. Boredom never killed anyone.

  • 3
    +1. If students are sitting in the rows of a lecture hall, having to get up to let someone else out can be a nuisance. But I can't imagine a computer room layout that would be like that.
    – Moriarty
    Nov 3, 2014 at 11:14
  • 20
    The problem with leaving them quietly is that essentially you end up punishing your more capable students for finishing early. In school I finished almost every exam in <50% of the allotted time, that's a lot of hours of sitting quietly wasting life.
    – Jon Story
    Nov 3, 2014 at 13:03
  • 6
    @JonStory By allowing students to leave, you also encourage the less capable students to give up and leave early. But which of the two evils is the lesser, is a tricky question.
    – Moriarty
    Nov 3, 2014 at 13:44
  • 8
    @AaronHall: Don't be stupid, of course it's not false imprisonment! They can make the adult decision to fail the test by breaking the rules. Nov 3, 2014 at 21:49
  • 13
    By allowing students to leave, you also encourage the less capable students to give up and leave early. — [citation needed] Allow, yes. But encourage?
    – JeffE
    Nov 4, 2014 at 2:24

I would suggest perhaps letting them leave in a more constructive way - when finished, the student raises their hand and waits for a tutor to come to them. They state they've finished and are escorted, quietly, from the room. Add a minimum time at the start and end during which they can't leave, to avoid disruption at the important settling in and final rush times, but during the bulk of the exam, people will barely notice.

Alternately if they aren't allowed to leave by the faculty, I'd arrange something whereby the student has a marker (eg a red cone of paper) on their monitor during the exam. When they finish, they raise their hand again and you come to remove the cone, at which point they're allowed to browse and do homework etc. that way you can differentiate between those finished and those attempting to cheat.

  • 3
    I like both options you've presented, but the first is probably simpler in practice to monitor. Proctoring an exam is complicated with the distractions that the second option you've indicated provides.
    – Compass
    Nov 3, 2014 at 22:11
  • Well, it depends to an extent on staff ratio, but I agree that it's better to avoid if you can't do it well. My preference would be my first option too - allow them to leave without disrupting others
    – Jon Story
    Nov 3, 2014 at 22:12
  • That 'red cone' strategy needs to be the other way around - that is, holding it gives permission to browse - otherwise you can just take it off yourself mid-test.
    – OJFord
    May 2, 2015 at 19:21
  • That probably depends on your room setup: I imagine it should be fairly obvious in most if someone is reaching up on top of their monitor. Either method should work, though, and can be chosen as to suit your environment
    – Jon Story
    May 2, 2015 at 19:25

I had one teacher, that put crossword or sudoku at the end of each test sheet. I think it is much better to give students something to do in the spare time. You should choose something that you can easily differentiate from cheating.

  • 1
    I would worry that the students that get stuck or lost would get distracted with such items and lose focus, potentially causing lower grades than they would get normally.
    – agweber
    Nov 3, 2014 at 15:01
  • 12
    Well, If someone loose focus on test because of sudoku, they would probably lose it otherwise.
    – Adam
    Nov 3, 2014 at 21:00

This is from personal experience as a student and proctor.

  1. A student's "stuff" -- The best rule to have is that students are not permitted to bring anything to the testing site. If this is just not possible, you can ask students to put what they bring along a wall or up front, on the floor, near the teacher's desk. This rule alone can result in students bringing less stuff to the exam.

  2. Phones and electronic devices -- Ask all students to pull their phones out before the exam starts and ask them to either put them on silent or simply turn them off. At this time, tell them to put them away and inform them that if a cell phone or other electronic device is seen in the open before the student leaves the exam room, they receive a zero on their exam. They can wait until they are in the hallway before looking at their missed calls/messages.

  3. Computer monitor -- Tell students that after they have completed their computer-based exam to turn their monitor off. This can be optional based upon circumstances. You could also ask the students to close all open programs and return to the desktop.

  4. Permit students to leave upon finishing their exam -- Tell students that they are in "exam mode" until they leave the room. Any spoken words that are not directed at a proctor or the instructor will result in a zero on their exam. They can retrieve their belongings from along the wall or from the area near the teacher's desk. You can even go so far as escorting students to the door and opening and closing it behind them.

  5. DO NOT assume that students who finish last are weak students -- I am a graduate student and am usually one of the last to complete an exam. I am also one of the highest grades in the class. Some students have text anxiety or concentration problems that cause them to take longer on their exam. You can even offer to allow students who know that they take longer on an exam or have concentration issues to sit in desks that are furthest from the door or locations that are prone to disruption from students leaving.

I hope you find this useful.

  • 1
    "If the computers are using a Windows operating system, you can ask the students to close everything and return to the desktop." How is that specific to Windows? Nov 5, 2014 at 15:15
  • @nyuszika7h. Good call, thanks. I updated my recommendation above.
    – gdeck
    Nov 5, 2014 at 17:54

I simply make an announcement with, say, 30 minutes to go requesting that, to respect the concentration of the students still working, students finishing early remain quietly seated until time is up.

This usually has the intended effect. The worst thing that's happened is that some students get up and try to leave immediately after that announcement. I meet them in the aisle and quietly repeat my request.


You did not specify what grade level these students are at. I tutor third-graders, and if they are let go early, they are definitely disruptive. But if this is college level, you are nominally dealing with legal adults. Forcing them to stay in the room until class is over sounds like unlawful restraint. I didn't even require that my students show up, except for the major exams. But they would lose all possible points for class participation, and hand-in assignments were always due. But, I explained, their chances of passing one of the exams were very close to zero unless they managed good study habits. A couple students tried this each term. Some got A+ and some got F. I finished one of my 3-hour PhD exams in 20 minutes, handed it in, and walked out of the room. It never occurred to me to ask permission, and if I had, the exam proctor would have thought it bizarre. (I passed with a perfect score).

If you have college students who are "disruptive" if they are not in class, your school has deeper problems than whether or not students can leave exams early, and they are not your problem. Even as an undergrad, we were treated as responsible adults, and such grade-school silliness as I've been reading here would never have happened.

I'm amazed that college-age students even tolerate such treatment. Or need it.

Note: if the students are disruptive, one way to control them is have them line up, buddy-to-buddy, and hold hands while walking in the halls. Like I did in pre-K.

  • 2
    The context of academia.SE is higher education, so grade level is implicit in the question. Nov 4, 2014 at 16:17
  • 3
    I would have thought that from the "charter" of the group, but the question and many of the answers made it sound like the context was Pre-K-5, like the school I tutor in. The whole discussion seems remarkably silly in the context of higher education.
    – flounder
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:22
  • I reread your answer and now I understand your point that students at a certain level should be treated like adults. But in large classes (e.g., hundreds), or with only a few minutes to go, a stream of leaving students (who are also packing up their belongings and excusing their way to the lecture hall's aisles) can be disruptive to those trying to finish. Nov 5, 2014 at 13:31

I do see the general concerns of allowing students to leave early; after all, they might meet up with whoever leaves for the bathroom while still taking the exam and provide them with information specific to the exam.

Now, of course that could happen as long as no-one has left, too. Someone could hide information in the bathrooms, or someone could meet up with someone not taking part in the exam at all, or that latter person could hide some information in the bathrooms after the exam has started. These issues could be mitigated in the following cases:

  • Only students taking part in the exam can enter the bathrooms. This depends a lot on the architecture; unless the lecture hall is extremely large (> 500 seats maybe, from what I could observe so far in universities?), the average number of required toilets at any moment during lectures generally does not warrant an extra set of bathrooms reserved for a single lecture hall. And even then, those bathrooms seem to be more often than not accessible in a way that one does not have to cross the lecture hall (and thus can enter and leave the bathrooms without anyone in the lecture hall noticing), for the very purpose of allowing outside people to use the bathrooms without disturbing whatever is going on in the lecture hall.
  • Students need to be accompanied to the bathroom door. Depending on how many proctors were assigned, and the size of the room/number of students, this may or may not be feasible. And even then, it would not totally prevent the exchange of information to take place in the bathrooms themselves.
  • The inside of the bathrooms needs to be checked whenever a student is brought there. This would require to have at least one male and one female proctor around. Highly unlikely to happen in gender-unequal disciplines such as computer science.

Those cases of cheating would be somewhat undirected, anyway. It may depend on the exams, but we generally try to not ask for any knowledge that needs to be memorized (in some cases, notes are even allowed during the exam). Our exams are usually designed in a way to test whether some knowledge can be applied in scenarios that are described on the exam sheets. Hence, the major concern is not cheating by accessing the course material or other references; the major concern is having someone else specifically solve one's particular tasks from the exam at hand. Therefore, what needs to be prevented is the contact between someone who is still taking the exam with someone who also knows the exam tasks. The straightforward solution to this is asking students to wait until everyone has finished.

Another point is that no matter how quiet students try to be, when they get up, they will make at least some noise:

  • Walking around creates some noises on non-carpeted floor, so that should generally be minimized. Leaving for the bathroom is allowed as there are medical reasons for that, but there are usually no such reasons that would warrant the impatience of having to leave right away.
  • Students who leave need to pack their stuff (writing utensils, drinks/food, other objects they needed to have around such as watches and their student IDs), which again will create some (more than just from writing) sounds.
  • In case of "lecture hall" type rooms, that do not have single chairs, but folding seats mounted to the next row of tables, students who do not sit right next to an aisle can only leave by making everyone else between themselves and the aisle get up. It is annoying when that happens in a cinema, and it is downright antisocial to disrupt someone's concentration like that who is taking an exam.

Some students may complain that they are wasting time, and - from an egoistical point of view - they may be right. However, unless we can provide a single room and a single proctor for every single student, that is not how exams realistically work:

  • They do not have to stay for an unexpected amount of time. If the exam was scheduled to take place between 2 PM and 4:30 PM, they can expect to leave by 4:30 PM. The time was known beforehand, and they will have arranged their schedule accordingly.
  • They are not the only ones taking the exam. Indeed, they (think they) have finished their own exam. But that doesn't mean they can stop caring about their environment at that moment, as the world still isn't centered around them; once they have stopped writing, it is their obligation to allow the other students to finish the exam without any further disruptions. I do not believe in punishing students who take longer by giving them an even harder time. Proctors need to guarantee avoidable disruptions are avoided, and giving in to someone's impatience is definitely avoidable.
  • The time is only wasted if they decide to waste it. There are plenty of things to do while waiting in a silent environment; from thinking - to get one's thoughts away from the exam topic - to sleeping. All of those are much less counterproductive with respect to the other students than insisting on creating more noise by leaving immediately.
  • Some overhead is to be expected. Reading out the exam rules and checking attendance in the beginning takes quite some time (in large exams, often more than 20 minutes). That is expected when taking an exam, and likewise, students should expect that there will be some time after they have finished writing that they still need to spend in the exam room.

Therefore, my general preference is to simply ask them to wait till the time is over. They can use some of that time to make sure they completed everything correctly (when do you ever get the chance/time to check what you wrote in an exam? You should use that opportunity!), and other than that, they are adults. They should be able to show a little patience on a few occasions.

EDITED to further address some more specific points that were brought up in various of the comments in this thread.

  • We always had exams in rooms with directly connected washrooms...
    – gerrit
    Nov 3, 2014 at 16:30
  • @gerrit: Sure, some rooms are built like that, but most exams I have seen were conducted in normal lecture rooms with the closest washrooms being the those for the whole floor (which tends to be more than enough, in terms of free seats per interested person on the floor). Nov 3, 2014 at 18:51
  • In that case, I would anyway expect anyone going to the toilet to be accompanied.
    – gerrit
    Nov 3, 2014 at 20:57
  • @gerrit: With only two proctors available, that would leave only one person in the room, so that's not always possible. And if you add the possibility that someone who finished early might hide something (or themselves) in the washrooms to exchange some information there, the proctors would have to enter the washrooms with the students, which would consistently require at least one male and one female proctor - extremely unlikely to happen in "gender-unequal" disciplines such as CS ;-) Nov 4, 2014 at 8:14
  • 1
    @gerrit: For smaller classes there is a good chance that there is only one proctor. Certainly that's the case for the classes I currently teach: it's me. Don't ask what happens if I have to go to the washroom... Nov 8, 2014 at 17:03

It depends a lot on the class and on the age of the students, which the original poster did not share. University students are expected to behave like adults, secondary school students may need a bit more supervision, especially if the school is not set up to accommodate students with no particular assigned place to be.

If a lot of students are going to be finishing early it may not be possible to give them a place where they can sit separately and use materials that contain possible exam help (even their class textbook may be inappropriate to read within view of students who are still working on the exam); in this case it may be best to provide reading material on the exam computer that will allow them to get an early start on future work, such as a reading assignment from a later chapter of the coursework.

Extra credit questions on the exam may also provide a way to keep all students occupied for the full exam time.

(As an illustrative example, I finished my final exam in a university economics class in 20 minutes, checked my work three times, and still walked out in less than a third of the allotted time. Telling students to spend the extra time to check their work may not be helpful.)


I'm going to agree with Jack on a couple points (why is students stepping out disruptive?) - with few exceptions and on major difference I think:

Test is over, class is not over

The main difference I'd like to point out is that in my limited experience (as a student) the test being over doesn't mean the class is over - normally that means you start lecture on the next chapter/section/subject... After a test students are free too:

  • sit at their computer - visible to staff and clearly not involved in test taking activities
  • run to the store (nearby, in building, snack shack)
  • just meander outside in the hallways until everyone is done - being respectful of our class AND neighboring classes.
  • etc
  • be back in your seat at X-time for further lecture

Either at a predetermined time (Test is 45 minutes) or as soon as all students are done taking the test, a 15 minute break commences that is then followed by further class time.

Test starts at 11 in the computer lab. You have until 12:15 to be finished (60 minutes for test, 15 minutes for break) and seated in the normal class room. Be respectful of those taking test, and those in nearby class rooms is more than reasonable if you are doing it outside of the normal classroom (computer lab).

What do you consider disruptive?

I think all of these suggestions to "Raise your hand to get permission" reeks of grade school and isn't something you do with responsible adults. I would find THAT more disruptive than Be quiet, respect others and wait or step outside until the test+break is over

But I think a major unanswered part is what are YOU calling disruptive? Students weaving through packed seats? Students saying "I'm done"? Students simply moving? Doing cartwheels through the isles due to the joy of finishing a test?

If you need to put up a guide, and treat it like every other disclaimer -

  • Don't eat the Chiclets included with your hard drive.
  • don't use hair dryer while in the shower.
  • Don't do cartwheels after the test.

... because SOME idiot had to eat the Chiclets or use a hair dryer in the shower, then do so. But I think those kinds of situations are probably covered in the generic "Don't do that" information you get when you start college.

  • 4
    This will depend on your local norms for class scheduling and exam length. Around here classes are usually 50 minutes, and an exam is scheduled to take the entire 50 minutes - there isn't time for lecture or other activities afterwards. Nov 3, 2014 at 16:52
  • 2
    Raising your hand in an exam room is fairly common, due to the restrictions on non-verbal communication. Having class after exams is fairly uncommon - especially after a 90 minute exam (2 hours plus, including the time taken to seat everyone, read regulations, collect papers etc)
    – Jon Story
    Nov 3, 2014 at 18:47

Based on your question, it sounds like several students may be asked to sit quietly for 30+ minutes. I don't know the specific policies of your university, but here are a few suggestions.

  1. If you have an empty back row, allow any student who has turned in his exam to take a seat behind currently working students and use phone, laptop etc.

  2. Have a TA offer student escorts outside the building every 10-15 minutes. This will be the way students can leave before the exam is up.

  3. Double check policies. Universities in America (and likely Europe) generally count the exam done when the student gets up from the chair. The students are not generally disruptive as they leave the building, and the no in and out policy prevents students from colluding in the bathroom.

  • Checking all entrances of a whole building sounds like quite a huge task. Nov 4, 2014 at 16:58

Among the three policies you suggested, only Policy 1 - Let them leave when they're done is good - or rather, it's the only morally acceptable one.

The reason is that you have no right to keep people in their seats doing nothing when they're done with their exam. That would be treating them like prisoners. You can and should make an effort to arrange things so that their leaving will be less disruptive (e.g. chairs which don't make a scratching noise when pulled...) - but nothing beyond that.

  • 3
    There's nothing immoral about making students stay; they freely agree to that condition when they sign up to the course. By this logic, it's immoral not to let them talk to each other...
    – sapi
    Nov 4, 2014 at 4:42
  • 1
    @sapi: They did not "freely agree" to let you lock them up doing nothing.
    – einpoklum
    Nov 4, 2014 at 9:20
  • 4
    That would be treating them like prisoners No.
    – Cape Code
    Nov 4, 2014 at 16:57
  • @einpoklum: They freely agreed to obey by exam conditions (restrictions), and in turn be guaranteed exam conditions (warranties). Among those warranties is the one that they do not get disturbed by other students walking around, unless inevitable (such as by going to the bathroom), and among those restrictions is that they do not disturb other students by walking around, unless inevitable (such as by going to the bathroom). I do not see a reason why it would be inevitable that they show their immature side by becoming impatient rather than wait until the exam is over. Nov 4, 2014 at 17:09
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper: I believe you're fetishizing contractual consent. You do realize there's not much that's 'free' about it, right? Anyway, leaving a room after you're done with the exam rather than being forced to remain in your seat is not acceptable, and if students have any bit of backbone, they just won't do it, so it's inevitable.
    – einpoklum
    Nov 4, 2014 at 19:49

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