Experimental Design Details
We implemented the field experiment in two written, 60-minute undergraduate exams at the business school of a German university, both of which took place in several lecture halls. The exams covered "principles of economics" (first exam) and "principles of business administration" (second exam). Both exams were compulsory for students in their first semester and were part of the curriculum for a bachelor's degree.
As for the design of the examination questions, each exam included 30 multiple-choice problems consisting of four statements. Only one of the four statements was correct. The students' task was to mark the correct statements on an answer sheet. All multiple-choice problems had the same weight, and the set of exam questions came in only one version. In a given exam, every student answered the same questions appearing in the same order.
According to the exam regulations in the department, students who cheat (e.g., by copying answers from neighbors or using mobile phones) fail the exam. It is also part of the exam regulations that supervisors in exams announce standardized examination rules by reading them aloud. As part of the announcements, supervisors highlight that cheating is prohibited and that detected cheaters would fail the exam. They also emphasize a list of actions counting as cheating attempts, including copying answers from neighbors, using unauthorized materials, and not switching off mobile phones. In the experiment, we made sure that the supervisors made the announcements as planned.
Importantly, the setting we study is one in which the level of monitoring is rather low. Commonly, up to 200 students take exams in lecture halls with up to 800 seats, supervised by only two to four members of the university staff (depending on the size of the hall). Moreover, if a supervisor files a case of attempted cheating, this leads to a significant hassle during the exam and to additional paperwork with the department's examination board after the exam. As a result, the supervising staff has little incentive to monitor students effectively.
In the experiment, the seating arrangement was as follows: Row-wise, a student was sitting in every second seat (i.e., any two students were separated by an empty seat). Column-wise, students were sitting in every second column (i.e., any two rows with students were separated by an empty seat). The fact that the row-wise distance between two students was smaller than the column-wise distance or the diagonal distance suggests that students more likely copied answers from neighbors in the same row than from students sitting in the front or the back.
Also of note is that the university does not have an honor code. Furthermore, in the years before the experiment, the department did not use any form of commitment requests to prevent cheating in exams.
The main purpose of the field experiment is to test how commitment affects cheating in exams. To that end, we randomly allocated students from two strata (gender and high-school GPA as a proxy for ability) to one of two treatment groups: A control condition and a commitment treatment. All the students in a given hall received the same treatment. We, thus, exclude spillovers between treatments, which substantiates the stable unit treatment value assumption. We also randomly assigned students to seats within the lecture halls and made sure that they took their preassigned seats.
The only difference between the control group and the commitment treatment was that students in the commitment treatment signed a declaration of compliance with the no-cheating rule. We placed this declaration on the cover sheet of the exam materials. It read:
"I hereby declare that I will not use unauthorized materials during the exam. Furthermore, I declare neither to use unauthorized aid from other participants nor to give unauthorized aid to other participants.''
The declaration was printed below a form in which students in all treatments had to fill in their names and university IDs. The salient location was meant to direct the students' attention to the declaration immediately before the beginning of the exam.
To further our understanding of the nature of commitment, two aspects of the commitment request are worth noting. First, by letting students sign the declaration, we changed the degree of commitment to an existing no-cheating rule relative to the control group, but neither varied the existence nor the content of the rule itself. In particular, the declaration did not introduce additional information regarding the rule. Instead, the public announcements, which were identical across treatments, laid out the rules by stating that cheating was prohibited and by highlighting the consequences of cheating. Second, the declaration was not morally loaded but neutral in the sense that it did not refer to any ethical norm.
We also implemented a treatment with close monitoring of students (but no commitment). The monitoring treatment helps us to substantiate that our methods can identify cheating. In particular, in the spirit of previous work highlighting that close monitoring can eliminate academic cheating, we increased the monitoring intensity in the monitoring treatment to a level that we expected would eliminate plagiarism. In the empirical analysis, we then test whether, as expected, this type of treatment variation nullifies or, at least, sharply reduces the amount of cheating detected by our methods.
As for the implementation details of close monitoring, they were as follows: In the monitoring treatment, we allocated additional supervisors to the lecture halls such that, on average, one supervisor monitored only 8.4 students, a significant decrease relative to the 44.2 students per supervisor under baseline monitoring (in control and commitment). Importantly, in all halls, supervisors remained at specific predefined spots throughout the exam. In the control and the commitment group, supervisors took positions in the front of the hall. In the monitoring treatment, the spots where supervisors located were evenly distributed all-over the hall.