By Jill Burroughs, Director of Test Security, Pearson VUE
Maintaining security standards is crucial to the sustained success of any testing program. A major misstep in this area could lead to integrity and fairness being questioned, and ultimately damage program and company reputation. Unfortunately, most computer-based testing (CBT) programs will face attempts to compromise the testing process. Today, these efforts are becoming increasingly sophisticated. As the emphasis on continuous professional education and examinations grows across industries worldwide, robust test security measures are becoming ever more essential.
Cheaters and Brain Dumpers
According to a survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, out of 12,000 high school students, 74 percent admitted to cheating on an exam at some point during the previous year. The problem has long-term repercussions, as those who successfully cheat at high school level are likely to continue this behavior when pursuing professional certification.
Recently, there have been a number of sensational cases involving impersonators or “hired guns.” However, the most frequent and corrosive types of cheating involve the misappropriation of exam questions and the use of cheating aids.A common form of cheating involves the harvesting of test questions, otherwise known as “brain dumping.” Brain dumpers take exams specifically to obtain questions for distribution to other test-takers. Some unauthorized test preparation programs advertise that they use “real exam questions” and encourage their students to memorize and share questions they saw on the test as a way of “giving back”to the group. In other cases, organizations hire“professional test-takers” whose sole responsibility is to take tests and secretly copy or record entire test forms.
Other cheaters may not be involved in brain dumping but employ other unfair means to obtain a positive test score. Their methods can range from smuggling notes into the testing room to the use of mobile phones, earpieces, and other cheating equipment. Most importantly, cheaters look for and attempt to exploit underlying vulnerabilities in the way tests are designed or administered.
In mid-2012, the tough competition for a place in China’s top educational institutions led to the arrest of 1,500 people on suspicion of selling transmitters and hard-to-detect earpieces in an attempt to cheat. With 6.85 million university spots on offer and more than 9 million students taking the paper-and-pencil exams, attempts to cheat were rife. Police uncovered more than 100 gangs suspected of selling cheating equipment and seized 60,000 devices, such as earpieces.
While highly damaging for test owners, proxy testing can prove hugely profitable for successful impersonators. For example, in 2011, an investigation into a New York cheating ring saw a number of students arrested for paying Sam Eshaghoff, 19, to sit for their pencil- and-paper-delivered SAT exam—a standardized test for college admissions in the United States. Eshaghoff is alleged to have taken the test on behalf of registered candidates for almost three years and received between $1,500 and $2,500 per exam. He did so by forging ID and taking the exam at different locations so that administrators would not recognize him.
Whatever the method or motivation, those who cheat unfairly reduce the credibility of the overall process. Potentially, they deny an honest test-taker the seat, position, promotion, or other reward for which they have worked so hard. More worrisome, a cheater may go on to assume a professional position of trust such as a doctor or teacher without actually being qualified, thus jeopardising public health, safety, or wellbeing.
How Do Cheaters Cheat?
There are many ways cheaters try to compromise tests. Here is a selection of methods and tactics used:
Tips to Prevent Cheating
Although cheating represents a serious risk, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact on the integrity of your program.
Despite the range of tools available to those who may attempt to defraud your program, there are several simple yet impactful steps you can take. It’s always worth taking time to research who is trying to compromise your program. Better still, find out how and why. It’s essential that your tests are delivered through a secure test center network and that they are protected with advanced prevention, detection, and enforcement tools. Even in the age of the tablet device, it’s crucial to appreciate the importance of both human proctors and technology to prevent fraud. It’s important to move with the technological times but remember the tried-and-tested methods still being applied.
Jill Burroughs is director of Test Security at computer-based testing company Pearson VUE. For more information, visit www.pearsonvue.com.