Real or AI Quiz: Can You Tell the Difference?

Real or AI Quiz: Can You Tell the Difference?

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, where filters, CGI, and AI-generated visuals are commonplace, children are increasingly encountering enhanced and artificial content. This new reality prompts a critical question: Can they effectively discern what’s real from what’s not? A Nexcess study underscored this challenge, finding that even AI-savvy adults correctly identified AI-generated images only about half the time. Such findings highlight the urgent need for robust media literacy education, especially for students navigating this complex digital terrain for the first time.

As an educator, your role is crucial in preparing students to analyze and evaluate media content critically. We’re here to support you with practical tips and an interactive quiz designed to enhance media literacy in your classroom. Let’s dive in and help your students sharpen their image evaluation skills!

STEP 1: Real Or Fake Quiz

Step up to our image detection challenge! This quiz isn’t just about distinguishing between pictures; it delves into the fascinating world where AI, having learned from countless authentic images, creates deceptively realistic visuals. Here, your mission is to separate these images from reality. Each question spans a variety of subjects, challenging students to observe, analyze critically, and judge carefully. Are you ready to discern the real from the fake?

Each set contains one real image and one that was generated by AI. Select the real image.

Real or Fake Quiz
1. Category: Wildlife and Nature
Poisonous Frogs
AI-generated images are notorious for including intense colors, which can often be a giveaway that they aren’t real. But this is only sometimes the case. Poisonous frogs are known for vibrant, almost surreal colors and patterns, which may lead one to question even the real photos. Vivid subjects can make it difficult to determine whether something is real simply by looking at colors.
Image description
In this case, the AI-generated image is actually more colorful, though that alone may not tell everything. Another area you can evaluate is the texture and pattern complexity. In the real version, the frog’s spots are much more detailed, whereas the AI version has spots that are much more simplistic.

Daniel/Adobe Stock; Vaclav/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
2. Category: Historial Events
The Titanic
Historical photos have distinct qualities due to the photographic technology of their time. When reviewing these images, look for signs of aging, such as fading or sepia tones, and the style of photography prevalent during that era. AI-generated images may not accurately replicate these.
Image description
This comparison is a more obvious one to distinguish, but the AI-generated Titanic still presents visual anomalies worth noting. For example, look at the difference in the ship itself. The Titanic had one mast and four chimneys, as pictured in the real photo, while the AI-generated image shows a ship with three masts and three chimneys. While you may not know this information off the top of your head, a simple comparison search online would reveal these details. The AI-generated image also contains inconsistencies in the light and shadow. You’ll see the front of the ship appears to block the sun’s rays, but these rays reappear in the middle of this ship even as the sun remains behind it.

RobinsonIcious/Adobe Stock; nyiragongo/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
3. Category: People
Students Doing Art Projects
This image is a great example of AI missing the mark on its depictions of people. While the technology continues to advance and create more realistic-looking people, AI still struggles with details like arms and digits.
Image description
While subtle, if you look closely at the children’s arms and hands, many appear misplaced or even missing. Some hands don’t match or align with the respective child, which is also a common error in AI-generated images of people.

Jacob Lund/Adobe Stock; AspctStyle/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
4. Category: Significant Landmarks
Mount Fuji, Japan
This is a tough one. Both images of Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, depict beautiful, vibrant, and realistic-looking scenery. This AI photo is also well done, with seemingly accurate reflections in the water.
Image description
AI often adds in details where they don’t exist to enhance the scene, such as the banks of trees, though this would be difficult to detect for most of us. But if you look closely, the landscape in the actual version has much more detail in the branches and leaves.

Rattanapon/Adobe Stock; Phutthiseth/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
5. Category: Space Exploration
Shuttle Launch
At first glance, these launch vehicle images share similar features and patterns, making them difficult to distinguish. The clouds, on the other hand, have rich texture, color, and lighting distinctions that could lead one to believe they’re both real.
Yet, this is where our analytical skills come into play. We can uncover crucial clues by focusing on the nuances of lighting and texture (as detailed in Step #3). If you zoom in, it doesn’t take long to notice how simplistic the shuttle design is in the AI-generated image compared with the real image, which features more complexity in the lines, divots, and shading.

wasan/Adobe Stock; Ployker/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
6. Category: Geography
Hong Kong at Night
Cityscapes, especially at night, are among the more challenging image types to evaluate. You’ll notice both images have nice, detailed lighting and shadows, though in this example, the real image has much more.
Another tip is to look at the background (the mountains) and the foreground (the buildings). You’ll notice inconsistencies, though if you do not immediately know how Hong Kong is laid out, you may not know which is real. The same goes for the building shapes and sizes in the foreground, which are slightly different in each photo. With a little effort, a simple online search of Hong Kong would reveal the truth: The mountain heights are more varied, and the building heights are not accurate in the AI-generated image.

pigprox/Adobe Stock; Iftikhar alam/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
7. Category: Natural Phenomena
Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights)
In the realm of natural wonders, discerning the real from the artificial here is as challenging as it gets. These displays, with their vibrant, almost unbelievable colors, can blur the lines between reality and fantasy. For students who’ve never personally witnessed such phenomena, discerning the true Northern Lights is no easy feat.
Focus your evaluation on the reflections in the water. In the actual photo, the reflection matches the lights precisely, including their distinct shapes and directions, whereas the reflection in the AI-generated image appears to have inconsistent pink and green coloring added in.

ECrafts/Adobe Stock; Lily/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
8. Category: Endangered Species
The challenge of discerning reality from AI-generated images becomes even more pronounced for students when it involves rare and unfamiliar animals like pangolins, also called scaly anteaters. Their limited exposure to such unique creatures means they often lack a frame of reference for what these animals typically look like, making it harder to spot inaccuracies in artificial representations.
As you look through these images together, you’ll notice the detail is well done in both versions, from scale details to little hairs on the faces. If you investigate a bit deeper and consider our Facial Features tip, you’ll start to see that AI doesn’t quite capture the pangolin’s eyes and expression in realistic ways. Additionally, check if proportions, like the size of the face and limbs, appear realistic. This approach not only sharpens their observational skills but also enhances their understanding of animal biology.

Veniamin Kraskov/Adobe Stock; mgkuijpers/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
9. Category: World History
Ancient Egyptian Papyrus
History can be another topic that requires additional inquiry. In these ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll images, both appear to be worn and dated in some way, which would make sense considering these scrolls would be thousands of years old.
While the AI-generated image incorporates an aged artifact appearance, you can see, once again, that AI struggled to get the people right. Zoom in to see the hands are missing and arms end out of nowhere. Despite the artifact’s wear and tear over time, the hands and digits would still likely exist, even if faded. Also, a quick analysis of the hieroglyphs shows they are not actual Egyptian symbols.

Paolo Gallo/Adobe Stock; Paulina/Adobe Stock

Real or Fake Quiz
10. Category: Influential Events and Figures
Women’s Suffrage Movement
When analyzing images of influential events and figures, especially historical ones, scrutinize the details closely, especially when it comes to people and their facial expressions. Authentic photographs capture a person’s facial natural asymmetry and unique nuances, while AI versions may show overly symmetrical or slightly distorted features. Additionally, consider the historical context: Examine the clothing, background settings, and photographic style for authenticity to reveal whether an image truly belongs to its claimed time period or is a modern AI-generated creation. These should align with the era’s fashion, typical photographic quality, and known historical backdrops.
In this particular case, you can spot the AI-generated version by examining both the people and the signs they’re holding. Both are less crisp than the real version, as the women in the AI-generated image have blurring in their faces and hair, and the letters and symbols on their signs appear jumbled and nonsensical.

George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress; Szalai/Adobe Stock

How did you stack up?

Count Text with Background Color

You correctly identified 0/10 images.

STEP 2: Look at Images Through a Critical Lens

Now that you know how you fared on the quiz, let’s look at some keys for building image evaluation skills. This starts with truly understanding an image. Begin by investigating the image’s message, subject(s), quality, and source. Guide your students through this process with these essential questions:

10 Key Questions for Evaluating Images1

  1. What do you see in the image?
  2. What message is the image trying to convey?
  3. What elements are in the background and foreground?
  4. Who or what are the main subjects of the image?
  5. Where did you find or access this image?
  6. Who is credited as the source of the image?
  7. Can you trust the source?
  8. What might be the source’s intention behind sharing this image?
  9. Who is the intended audience of the image?
  10. What accompanying information, like text, comes with the image?

Practical Tools for Image Vetting

Metadata Analysis: Delve into an image's metadata. This can provide insights like the date, location, camera settings, and copyright details. On computers, right-click an image and select "Properties" to view this information. Mobile users can use apps like Google Photos or access image details through menu options.

Reverse Image Search: Jumpstart your analysis with tools like reverse image search. Check out resources like PBS LearningMedia's video guide on effectively using this technique.

Keep in mind that these methods are not foolproof. Metadata can be altered or removed, and reverse image searches might only sometimes yield results for some images, especially if no one has shared them publicly. These tools are starting points to build a foundational understanding of image analysis.

STEP 3: Tips for Spotting AI-Generated Images

Next, discuss the shortcomings of AI-generated images with your students. It’s important to note that AI-generated images aren’t all bad and are often used responsibly to enhance content where real images may not be as accessible or effective. However, they can also be used incorrectly, out of context, or even nefariously to make something appear a certain way.

Walk your learners through these tips to distinguish whether an image has been created by an AI program. As you analyze images in this challenge—and in real life—here are a few key giveaways that an image might be fake:

  • Unusual or Inconsistent Details: AI-generated images often contain minor, noticeable detail errors. Encourage students to look for abnormalities like asymmetrical facial features, odd finger placement, or objects with strange proportions.
  • Texture and Pattern Repetition: AI sometimes struggles with complex textures or patterns, leading to noticeable repetition or awkward transitions. Students should look for unnatural patterns in textures like hair, skin, clothing, or background elements.
  • Lighting and Shadows: AI-generated images can have inconsistent or unrealistic lighting and shadows. Students should check if the lighting on different objects in the image matches and if the shadows are consistent with the light sources.
  • Background Anomalies: Backgrounds in AI images can be a giveaway. Many are overly simplistic, overly complex, or contain elements that don't belong. Encourage students to pay attention to the background as much as the main subject.
  • Facial Features: Faces generated by AI can sometimes appear slightly off. This can include oddities in the eyes (like reflections or iris shape), ears, or hair. These features are often subtly surreal or unnaturally symmetrical/asymmetrical.
  • Contextual Errors: AI can struggle with context. An object might be out of place for the setting, or there might be a mismatch in the scale of objects. Encourage students to consider whether everything in the image makes sense contextually.
  • Text and Labels: AI often struggles with replicating coherent and contextually accurate text. If there's text on the image, it can sometimes be jumbled, misspelled, or nonsensical in AI-generated images.
  • Digital Artifacts: Look for signs of digital manipulation, like pixelation, strange color patterns, or blur in areas where it doesn't logically belong.
  • Emotional Inconsistency: AI-generated faces may have expressions that don't quite match the emotion or mood the image conveys.

STEP 4: Continue Practicing & Learning

Keep exploring, keep questioning, and keep engaging with Britannica Education’s trusted information literacy resources, including:

  • NEW Media Literacy for the Digital Era guide — Transform the way you teach media literacy with our curated guide, filled with fascinating facts, impactful tips, and hands-on activities to turn your young learners into media-savvy learners.
  • Britannica ImageQuest — Explore millions of authentic, safe, right-cleared images and videos, perfect for classroom and independent projects and learning.
  • Britannica School — Elevate learning with reliable articles, images, maps, videos, and primary sources.

Beyond Britannica, here are a few of our favorite media literacy activities and resources:

  • New York Times image generator test — Need more image evaluation practice? Try distinguishing real photos of people from AI-generated images in this engaging, interactive article.
  • PBS LearningMedia’s News and Media Literacy Collection — From videos to blogs and lesson plans to student handouts, this collection is designed to help students investigate news and information.
  • Common Sense Media — This non-profit provides tools and best practices to prepare your students for success in a connected world with media literacy resources for classrooms.
  • National Association for Media Literacy in Education (NAMLE) – In addition to media literacy definitions and explanations, this organization also has beneficial resources, such as guidelines for parents, strategies for building online resilience, and insights leading up to Media Literacy Week every October.

As you wrap up, remember that the journey to media literacy is ongoing and ever-changing. Together, we can prepare our students to navigate the complex media landscape of today and tomorrow with confidence and curiosity. By incorporating these conversations into your teaching, you're educating your students about media literacy and empowering them to be critical thinkers and responsible digital citizens. 


  1. University of Washington Library. (n.d.) Images: Evaluating Images. Accessed on Feb. 7, 2023.
  2. Bartels, M. (March 31, 2023.) “How to Tell If a Photo Is an AI-Generated Fake.” Scientific American.
  3. Nexcess. (June 14, 2023.) “Surprising new study reveals humans struggle to spot AI-generated content, says Nexcess.

Additional Sources


About The Author

Mike Benson

Education Consultant
Mike has been in the education universe for over 20 years. His first 11 years were spent teaching various grades in elementary school in Dallas, TX. Now based in Colorado, Mike has spent the last 11 years in EdTech professional learning, helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms and using the data to make instructional decisions.

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