With exam season in schools now almost over, people around the world have seized the opportunity to better their academic qualifications and to enhance their career prospects. For many, these are pivotal moments following the years of sweat, possibly tears, but hopefully no blood, that they have shed in the build up to the moment that they walk into the examination room.
Preparing for a profession
The high pressure environments of examinations can be an excellent analogue for high pressure work situations that a candidate may go on to experience in their professional fields. In many careers, mistakes can have catastrophic consequences and so an individual’s ability to retain and recall critical information must be put to the test in a safe environment before they are allowed to begin developing their vocational skillset. Time constraints are essential for demonstrating ability to complete tasks to a deadline, and of course we must not forget that the sense of personal pride that comes from performing well in examinations can be fundamental to personal development.
Exams often have a great deal riding on the result. Better career prospects, enhanced professional standing and a sense of personal satisfaction are among these, but for many the primary motivation for undertaking hours of study and exam conditions is the prospect of a new and better paid job.
With great responsibility comes a great pay cheque
In today’s global workplace, the right qualification can be the ticket to a life of health, wealth and happiness for people who would otherwise not be able to access these things. Many professions that require high level qualifications can give a person the freedom to move to other countries, to enjoy a high standard of living and to continue to support their families at home. However, where there are opportunities, there are always people who are looking for a means to exploit them – and this is certainly the case in the examination room.
Cheating – the nuclear option
In 2012, around 125 students at Harvard College were investigated for cheating in one of their final exams of the year whilst in 2014, 34 US Air Force officers who were in charge of launching nuclear missiles were suspended over accusations that they cheated in proficiency tests. From school spelling tests to car emissions data, there is no area of life in which performance will be tested and where somebody isn’t trying to get an unfair advantage.
Additionally, the ever-expanding field of consumer technology has allowed cheaters to make use of all sorts of new devices to allow them to gain an unfair advantage. Now readily available on eBay, are almost invisible covert earpieces that link via Bluetooth to pre-recorded files on your MP3 player, and a recent case in Thailand saw students using smart watches combined with live-streaming video eye-wear to try and cheat their way into medical school.
The cost of cheating
Whilst many cheating scandals are almost comical in their brashness (take Rosie Ruiz using the subway to win the 1980 Boston Marathon as an example), the fact is that cheating impacts most seriously on the honest and ethical participants who are caught up along the way. For an exam candidate who has
worked hard in preparation for the opportunity to build a new career, having their result disallowed due to the unethical actions of another person is extremely disruptive and distressing. The financial cost to organisations is also an important consideration. From examination re-sits and carrying out lengthy internal investigations, through to reputational damage caused by large-scale cheating and internal corruption, the effects can be time consuming and costly.
So what can be done to strengthen resilience to cheating?
Quality assurance is key
With so much of modern business taking place online, e-learning or remotely administered examinations are an obvious place to start when looking to tighten up controls on exam conditions. Assessments delivered via the internet can be time-restricted, access limited and programmed to highlight suspicious behaviour.
Reducing the requirement for hard-copy examination papers can also reduce the risk of the exam materials being intercepted and leaked. But are these measures enough? With companies including No Need to Study offering bespoke cheating services to help you through your online course, the answer is probably not.
In the cases mentioned above, the cheat has been caught by another person – often an invigilator.
There is (as yet) no substitute for the human eye and human instinct. A highly trained and experienced invigilator may well think that something is suspicious, even before they have identified exactly what it is that they are being alerted to. The professional exam invigilator is fastidious in their attention to detail, is utterly incorruptible and abides by a comprehensive set of values and standards.
For many cheaters, just knowing that such a high-calibre person will be actively watching them for signs of improper conduct can be an effective deterrent and for the honest candidate this can provide a welcome sense of reassurance.
In truth it is a combination of methods that affords the greatest protection. Making effective use of technology to restrict access to test materials, block mobile telephone signals and to monitor candidate behaviour, combined with the efforts of honest and trustworthy human invigilators is the best place to start.