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Exams and the Honor Code

Please note that in response to the COVID-19 virus Winter Quarter exams for the 2019-20 Academic Year must be administered in take-home format. An extensive FAQ has been created with information about academic policies and support on the Teach Anywhere website. These FAQs are for both instructors and students and include specific guidance for how the Honor Code should be applied and interpreted in these unusual circumstances.

Faculty members often ask us questions about how the Honor Code affects the types of exams they may give and what the rules are for administering exams.

General Rules about Instructor Discretion

Instructor discretion includes the following:

  • exam location
  • alternate times for exams
  • alteration of due dates
  • with the consent of the instructor, tests may be taken from the classroom

(Based on Interpretations of the Honor Code, 2002 )

For additional information, please examine the rest of our website, which includes

Also, please see the Stanford Bulletin, in particular the section therein titled "Academic Policies and Statements," which contains detailed provisions on examinations, including:

"If unforeseen circumstances prevent the student from sitting for the regularly scheduled examination, instructors should make alternative arrangements on an individual basis. Such unforeseen circumstances include illness, personal emergency, or the student's required participation in special events approved as exceptions by the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy (C-USP).

Take-Home Exams

A number of faculty give take-home exams because they believe it is more likely they can find out what students really know when time pressures are largely eliminated and the students can then consult written sources and try to put together real arguments. In this sense take-home exams are more like final papers than exams, and encourage students to be creative—thus arguably representing a more valuable learning experience for them.

Open-book Requirement

As stated in the Interpretations of the Honor Code, “If take-home examinations are given, they should not be closed-book examinations…” Open-book exams place no limitations on the materials or resources that a student may access during the exam.

Give Clear Rules to Students

Take-home exams should give very clear and specific rules about what students are allowed and not allowed to do—including that the exams are subject to the provisions of the Honor Code. Be explicit. One faculty member has, for instance, successfully used something like the following:

  • Being subject to the provisions of the Honor Code means in part that you must observe the rules established for this exam, which are: you may consult only inanimate sources. You may not consult or collaborate with anyone about the questions. Such collaboration is a violation of the Honor Code.

Announce your rules in class before the take-home exam is administered. Ask if there are questions about the rules. Explain the reasons why you set each of the rules. If students understand your rules then they are more likely to follow them. Write the rules down and attach them to the exam. Let students know how to get in touch with you, or a TA, during the take-home period, should they have any questions about the exam (so they won't be tempted to ask their classmates).

Time Limitations

As stated in the Interpretations of the Honor Code,  take-home exams should not have "a specific time limit less than the full period between the distribution of the examination and its due date."  This is because under the Honor Code students cannot be expected to self-report their start and end times on take-home exams, as this would create a temptation to violate the Honor Code.

However, take-home exams can be administered with time limits and align with the Honor Code, if electronic time-stamps are used that record when a student opened the exam and when they submitted the exam.  Electronic time-stamping removes any undue temptation for students to misrepresent their start and end times and thus violate the Honor Code. Electronic timestamps represent a technological advance that was not possible when the Interpretations of the Honor Code were first written.

Practical-style Exams in Laboratories

Faculty and other course staff may be present for laboratory-style practical examinations. There is a compelling interest in lab-practical exams for course staff (including faculty) to be present. Course staff may, among other things, need to preserve exam specimens, handle timing, evaluate performance and deal with any problems that arise. Moreover, lab practicals can be considered akin to oral exams, which do not fall within the Honor Code's prohibition on proctoring for obvious reasons. Before a lab-practical exam is administered, however, course staff should talk to students about the reasons for being present—and preferably, provide a written explanation as well.

Granting Extensions and Rescheduling Exams

Requesting a Doctor’s Note

Many instructors worry that if they allow changes to the exam schedule they will be  creating undue "temptation" or placing "honorable and conscientious students at a disadvantage."

If a student requests an extension or asks for an exam to be rescheduled due to a short-term illness (e.g. cold/flu), neither the Honor Code nor its Interpretations and Applications prohibit you from questioning a student about the extent of their illness. However, the student may not have seen a doctor during their illness. In addition, Vaden Health Center has stated that they do not "provide students with written medical excuses for missed classes, exams or late assignments." During final exams they will, however, "provide medical information to an instructor concerning a student's illness or injury during the End-Quarter examination period, at a student's request." 

Suggestions for Extension/Rescheduling Policies

Clarify and follow your own policies for extensions and alternate exam dates. Be thoughtful, fair and consistent.

If your policies allow for "late days" with or without penalties, you can simply issue a grade based upon the date the assignment is turned in. You do not need to grant the request if it is inconsistent with your policies.

If a student misses an exam that cannot be made up until that exam is offered again in a future quarter, you may issue an incomplete until they can complete the course requirements. If a student misses an assignment or exam and it results in a grade change for the course that is also within your discretion as the instructor.

Departmental Solutions

Some departments have one staff member who handles all requests for alternate exam times. This ensures consistency and has been found to reduce the number of requests.

Students Who Are Registered with the Disability Resource Center

If the student is registered with the Student Disability Resource Center, s/he is responsible for giving you a letter detailing the required accommodations. Questions should be addressed to the Office of Accessible Education at 650-723-1066.