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Invisible Ink and other inventive ways to cheat in exams


Students have always sought new ways to cheat in exams. Ever since we have been testing them, making them sit quietly in lines of little desks, too far apart from them to see the work of their neighbor, they have been developing ever more cunning ways to score some extra points. The testing room may be a place of high surveillance, with teachers pacing up and down the rows of the studious scribblers; there may even be cameras scrutinizing every movement the pupils make - as long as exams retain their importance, many students will be willing to take a risk to get a better mark. With their very future at stake - the difference of a percentage point potentially determining their admission to a university, who can really blame them?

When I was at school the most sophisticated way of evading detection was by constructing something called `cheat notes.` These were simply a tiny scraps of paper, sometimes no larger than a stamp, onto which would be written information which our brains somehow could not retain. This might be certain dates for a history exam, or mathematical formulae for a physics test. The contraband data had to be concise of course, nothing more than a few lines could be imprinted onto these tiny scraps, which would be surreptitiously unfolded out on the battlefield of the exam hall. After opening these origami-like objects, the pupil might be dismayed to find they couldn`t read their own tiny script; or would discover that the ink had blotted, rendering the aids useless. If they believed their cover had been blown, and that a teacher was about to intercept them, the cheat notes would be swiftly devoured, with the information they couldn`t keep in their mind now assimilated through their digestive system.

These days there are far more ingenious was to cheat in exams - the most obvious tool for this malfeasance being the mobile phone. The internet exceeds in scope the library of Alexandria, and with just about every school child possessing a smart phone, the answer to that problematic exam question may just be a few finger taps away. It is of course forbidden to take phones into exam halls; but it is all too easy for a student to pass off an old phone to their teacher, while retaining their current handset, which they can secretly use during the exam. I have heard that some schools and universities actually frisk the students before each exam, checking them for any secret communication devices they may have on their person. With phones getting ever smaller and more concealable one wonders how far this `probing` might go - will we soon see students having to pass though airport like security checks before being tested? There are affordable watches that can now access the internet - and soon the world will be graced by the long awaited Google Glass, which will allow a simulated cinematic screen to be observed through a pair of glasses. These will enable anyone to view the internet with clandestine ease, and also record anything they so much as look at. Perhaps all pupils will need to have their spectacles inspected prior to entering the exam room, to ensure they will not be able to transmit an image of their test to a group of friends, who would be able to dictate the perfect answer through the tiny speakers in the arms of the glasses.

A slightly more prosaic method of cheating in an exam was `brought to light` recently, when a university law student was caught, having covered 24 pages with invisible ink, which they were able to read using a UV light source, which they had smuggled into the room. The protocol for law exams permits students to consult certain text books, and the student had filled 24 pages of one book with `unauthorized notes` according to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Though there is almost something charming - James Bond crossed with Harry Potter - about this case, it represents a rise in `cheat tech,` with the OIA revealing that hundreds of students have been caught with covert devices they hoped would aid them during exams.

Lord Story, Liberal Democrats education spokesman for the House of Lords, has said that students are under immense pressure to do well in exams, and that the temptation to get higher grades by cheating can sometimes be too hard to resist.

`The number of students is increasing all the time, particularly overseas students. Sometimes rich parents are paying the fees and the young person is desperate to do well in exams and make sure money wasn`t wasted`.

Cheating is a pernicious problem: If students are consistently able to evade detection during exams, and obtain grades that do not accurately reflect their academic abilities, then the very credibility of that academic institution will be devalued. Colleges will soon discern that high grades from a certain school carry little currency; while the very reputation of a university could be tarnished if it awards degrees to those who do not deserve them.

19 months ago
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