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Posted by John Kleeman

Over Halloween, I’ve been reviewing how often it seems that test center administrators or proctors have been shown to help candidates cheat at exams. It’s scary how often this appears to happen.

BBC undercover pictureJust a couple of weeks ago, a BBC television investigation reported widespread cheating at UK test centers where construction workers and builders were certified on health and safety. The BBC showed (see undercover picture to the right) a test center director reading exam answers from a big screen, instructing candidates:

“Follow me on screen, guys. I’m going to shout the correct answer, you just click. We’re going to make a couple of mistakes – what I don’t want is everyone making the same mistake.”

The sad thing is that construction is a dangerous occupation. In the past five years, the BBC reports that 221 workers died in the UK while on the job within the construction sector. It’s very worrying that corrupt test centers that facilitate cheating on health and safety tests are likely contributing to this.

Another scary example is from a recent US court case where a decorated former police officer in San Francisco was sentenced to two years in jail for taking bribes from taxi drivers to give them a passing grade, whether or not they passed the test. These are a couple of examples I happen to have seen this weekend. See my earlier blog entry Online or test center proctoring: Which is more secure? for several other examples of test center fraud.
So what is the answer?  Part of the solution as I argued in What is the best way to reduce cheating? is to remove people’s rationalization to cheat. Most people think of themselves as good, honest people, and if you communicate the aims of the test and take other measures to make people think the test is fair, then fewer of them are likely to cheat.

Another approach is to do what Cambodia has been doing and throw a lot of resources into preventing cheating. According to this article, the government’s anti-corruption unit has been focusing on university exams, enlisting 2,000 volunteers to help monitor last summer’s exams and prevent collusion between proctors and students.

Of course, the vast majority of tests at test centers are entirely legitimate, and reputable test center providers do all they can to prevent face-to-face proctors from colluding with candidates. But there does seem to be two persistent problems:

  1. Some proctors are keen to help their local candidates
  2. The financial stakes involved in passing a test means that when candidate and proctor meet face-to-face, there is an ever-present risk of corruption.

I strongly suspect online proctoring is part of the solution here. The main argument for online proctoring is that candidates do not need to travel to a test center (see Online or test center proctoring: Which is best?). But there is an important side benefit to this: candidates and proctor never meet, and all their communications can be recorded. Without a face-to-face meeting and without a local connection, the likelihood of collusion, so this kind of cheating is much less probable. Now, that’s a non-scary solution that has some promise.