Fiona Collins, Vice President of market development at Pearson Vue, explains how increasingly sophisticated measures are being employed to combat examination fraud
For Indian institutions that are keen to maintain a reputation for academic and professional excellence, securing exams against fraudsters is vital. But a higher number of test-takers and growing competition for places all add to the growing proliferation of test and identity fraud.
And it’s not just genuine test-takers who lose out. A major case of cheating can lead to the integrity and fairness of a test being questioned, casting a shadow over whole exam programmes.
As the emphasis on continuous professional education and examinations grows across all industries the need for robust test security measures has never been greater. Unfortunately, processes set up to objectively measure professional skills and aptitude are being compromised as efforts to cheat and defraud become increasingly sophisticated.
In the news
In January the Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission went so far as to install mobile phone jammers in its examination halls in the state capital. The specialist devices were purchased after the arrest of 34 candidates caught with mobile phones during the written examination of the combined graduate-level examinations in September last year, according to a commission spokesman.
There have been several sensational cases involving impersonators taking a test for somebody else in exchange for cash. While highly damaging for the organisations running the assessments, proxy testing can be lucrative for the fraudsters and as a result, many are keen to try it.
Five impersonators were caught during the state entrance examination conducted by Uttar Pradesh Technical University (UPTU) last April. The “hired guns” came from Lucknow, Kanpur, Sitapur and two from Bareilly. In September, a youth appearing in place of another candidate in the MP police constable recruitment examination at the BSN College examination centre was arrested as he tried to impersonate the real candidate Harendra Singh.
Perhaps the highest profile case has been that of roads and buildings minister G.M. Saroori. When her daughter HumaTabassum failed to qualify for a medical college of her choice, she hired Shruti Gaur, a resident of Mathura, to ensure she cracked the exam. Shruti was one of the seven impersonators arrested from the University of Jammu in August 2010. Other candidates who used impersonators included National Conference leader Ram Pal's son LovishBhart.
But impersonation is only one of many methods used by those determined to cheat. The most frequent and corrosive types of cheating involve the misappropriation of exam questions and the use of cheating aids. Some unauthorised test preparation programmes advertise that they use “real exam questions” and encourage students to memorise and share questions they saw in a test as a way of “giving back” to the group. Some cheats go further, using “brain dumping”, where they take exams specifically to obtain questions for distribution to other test-takers.
Other more old-school methods include smuggling notes into the testing room or using earpieces and mobile phones along with other cheating equipment. They are always looking for any way to exploit vulnerabilities in the way tests are designed and administered.
Whilst cheating should not be tolerated in any capacity, it is really in the professional testing fields where impersonation and fraud have the biggest implications. When they succeed, fraudsters do immense damage to the credibility of the overall process, potentially denying an honest test-taker the seat, position or promotion they worked hard for. And that damage can even impact wider publics. From high tech industries relying on certified technicians, financial organisations dealing with high risks and investments to hospitals, construction sites and even our roads where failure to properly obtain licences to practice can impact the safety of others.
Ironically in this digital economy and with such high stakes, too many institutions and organisations in India have continued to rely on out-dated paper processes to protect the public from fraud and so too the integrity of our workforce. However, there has been a growing body of academic and professional organisations that are now migrating to a form of computer-based testing (CBT) due to the sophisticated anti-fraud and anti-cheating measures it allows.
Cutting edge technology such as Palm Vein Recognition – a device that examines the unique patterns in a test-taker’s palm veins using a safe infrared light – is now used by one in four of the 157,500 candidates sitting other exams in over 260 test centres run by Pearson VUE in India, to minimise impersonation fraud. Guarding against such fraud is especially important in so-called “high stakes” tests where fraud could impact public safety, if for example someone fraudulently acquired medical accreditation, or economic damage to the country where people lacking vital skills and knowledge fraudulently qualify as an accountant.
Candidates at all centres are also digitally photographed and required to sign their name digitally, along with providing two forms of ID. CCTV, optionally trained on each individual candidates hands, and live invigilating, along with audio monitoring, are available for test providers at the centres.
With CBT, test integrity begins with a robust test design and then, in turn, with encrypted exam content. That means, from beginning to end, exam questions are not exposed, posted, lost like paper tests.
Testing companies can help create and maintain question or ‘item’ banks that minimise candidate’s exposure to questions and deter exam theft. By simply randomising the test questions and even question forms, the chances of a candidate being able to help others cheat are greatly reduced. CBT typically involves secure test publishing, with exams downloaded in encrypted form onto a test centre computer, and allowing a comprehensive electronic audit trail.
Surveillance and monitoring
Along with dedicated invigilators or ‘proctors’, the digital video surveillance is used to monitor and record any misconduct during the testing. Security incidents during testing can be reported electronically and automatically linked to the test-taker record for immediate investigation by a designated security team. Of course, these systems are not helpful unless they are actually carried out correctly.
The ability to monitor compliance can be the difference between knowing about cheating and actually being able to do something about it before a test-taker obtains an qualification they have not earned. The testing system can provide the optional ability to automatically flag predetermined behaviours, such as completing the test very quickly, on the test day and then prevent the final score or qualification from being issued.
With all of these tools and enhanced processes at their disposal, the reputation of assessments and qualifications offered by Indian institutions and organisations nationwide need not suffer any longer. Crucially, CBT can better ensure that assessment always delivers upon its objectives such as improving the careers and the lives of professionals and the boosting the economy as a whole. Equally, it also means talentless fraudsters can be weeded out.
Author Bio: Fiona Collins is the Vice President of market development at Pearson Vue. She has delivered projects including lab-based testing, the upgrade of third-party test centers to embrace new security measures, and the development of innovative item type exams.