Cheating in exams in Algerian school
Common causes and effective solutions
Dr BENMESMOUDI Aali/University of Mascara
مقال نشر في مجلة جيل العلوم الانسانية والاجتماعية العدد 39 الصفحة 137.
this article is about a phenomenon which threatens the integrity of the educational evaluation, mainly the national examinations, such as Baccalaureate and BEM. We found that the majority of the researches agreed that the main causes of cheating in exams are: hard courses, hard exams, time pressure, improving one’s chances, and fear of failure. Whereas the reasons which make the learners do not cheat: religious beliefs, moral values and fear from sanctions. After that I set the methods used by cheaters, all those techniques can be divided into two main groups: classical methods and methods based on technology. Finally, I tried to give solutions to the problem; good arrangement of the exam rooms, avoiding questions which make cheating easier like multiple choice questions, reinforcing the religious and moral values in the curriculums.
Nowadays, cheating has become a serious problem in our schools, and mainly with the emergence of new means of communication, and the growth that witnessed in the last decades. In fact, the Internet and social media facilitated the cheaters’ task, and created a new kind of problems which need creative solutions. These factors pose a serious trouble that we should confront on both educational and technological sides.
When I was looking for literature review to my article, I found that cheating in exams in not related to undeveloped countries; since even advanced countries are suffering from this phenomenon as well; learners cheat in Malian schools, and they do in British ones too.
If we want to treat this issue, we need first to define what teaching is. For this reason, a study was done in Georgia institute of technology college of computing by Andy Ozment and others, entitled ‘causes for cheating: unclear expectation in the classroom’, the researchers confirmed: ‘the results showed that the first difficulty in studying cheating is defining it. Not only were there wide discrepancies between three groups, there was also wide deviation within the groups’ (1). That is to say members of the sample do not have the same beliefs about the meaning of cheating; some of them consider that bringing formulas into the exam on the back of a calculator is not cheating, others see using technology (e.g. sending each other messages on cell phones) as a faithful act. So, we have to set a clear definition to cheating before tackling our main issue, how can we define cheating?
Cheating is defined as: ‘using materials to obtain help in completing an assignment, report, quiz or exam that are not available to the entire class’ (2). This definition focuses on the absence of equality among the students, since not all of them have the same opportunity to use the prohibited devices and materials. So, the notion of equality between learners who take an exam, and the violation of this principle draw a frontier between what is considered as cheating and what’s seen as integrity. Defining cheating is important since many researchers found ‘that some cheating may occur due to students’ confusion over its definition, the researchers said that people are very confused about what is meant by cheating’ (3).
Cheating attempts during the exams inflame a battle between cheaters and teachers, but what are the main reasons which lead the learners to cheat?
In a study done by Dr Hamzeh M. Dodeen, about undergraduate student cheating in exams, he found that ‘the most compelling reasons for cheating were determined by respondents as the following: hard courses, hard exams, time pressure, improving one’s chances, and fear of failure. Two of these reasons (time pressure and desire for good grades) were identified as common reasons in the research of the undergraduate cheating. The least compelling reasons were taking a chance and parent’s pressure’ (4). Such important results clarify why learners prepare themselves to cheat in advance in hard courses such as Physics, by writing some rules in sheets, and why they try to cheat during the exam in hard exams by looking at another student’s exam paper.
Another research showed that cheating motivators may be:
- First “opportunity”, although such happenstance might not apply in protected-examination environments, this explanation seems more appropriate situations where students have access to online resources…
- Second possible explanation is the ‘desire to succeed’, if winning is everything, then cheating simply becomes a tool to use in pursuit of this higher goal…
- A third possible explanation why college students cheat is ‘the small or non-existent penalties’ that some instructors impose for infractions…
- A fourth possible explanation for college cheating is the reluctance many professors now harbor to prosecute student cheaters…
- A fifth explanation for college cheating is a growing trend to redefine what constitutes “cheating”…
-A final factor might explain cheating behavior- or more accurately, explain why some students do not cheat- is “moral code”.(5)
In addition, we can add other reasons why students cheat, such as:
-When the learners do not prepare well for exam, they will be more able to cheat
-If the exam room is not well arranged to prevent cheating, this will motivate students’ attempts,
- Questions types; they cheat more in multiple-choice tests
-Students who feel dissatisfied with school life are more likely to cheat
-The exam atmosphere may encourage cheating; the number of proctors, their reputation in exams…
After this analysis, the main reasons which lead the learners to cheat seem to be clearer, now let’s talk about the methods and techniques followed by cheaters. We can easily notice that those methods are divided into two main parts: methods used before the exam itself; the learner prepares himself to cheat outside the exam room, others during the exam; the learner cheats inside the exam room without previous preparation. We can also distinguish two kinds of cheating in terms of using technology: classical methods without using any technology and moderate methods by using technology.
In their study entitled ‘detecting and preventing cheating during exams’, Kevin Yee and Patricia MacKown mentioned a series of cheating methods used by cheaters (6):
-Whispering: asking for and giving answers verbally
-Wandering eyes: looking over the shoulder of someone or to the side
-Passing notes: scribbles on paper
-Sign language: use hand gestures (especially fingers for numbers) to communicate with others
-Morse code-voice: use coughing or sneezing a set of number of times to communicate an answer
-Morse code- nonverbal: use sounds like stamping feet, tapping pencil, etc to communicate an answer
-Misdirection: one person distracts the proctor(s) while others cheat
-Write on body: ink written on body part, perhaps covered by long sleeves
-Write on desk: especially when written in pencil for easy wiping later
-Cheat sheet: prewritten cheat sheet, usually small font, hidden in clothes or under wrist- watch
-Cheat sheet on floor: prewritten cheat sheet hidden in book or under folders below the disk
-Cheat sheet in bag: prewritten cheat sheet in backpack; accessed when getting new pen
-Bathroom: leave with permission; get notes pre-hidden in bathroom
-Chewing gum: write cheat on stick of gum in ink; pop into mouth if endangered
-Baby wipes: write on the body in ink, but have an alcohol wipe ready to remove evidence quickly
-Invisible ink: visible only with certain kind of handled pen light
-Water bottle: remove label, write cheats on inside with small font, reattach, water acts as magnifying lens
-Baseball cap: reading the underside of the brim
-Sunglasses: cheats pasted or written on inside of dark glasses
-Barrel pens: pens with a small window and click to rotate messages can have a “safe” setting and use the other click settings to write cheats
-Bra: cheat sheets stuck into center of bra, visible only when looking down into blouse
-Leg. Fan: cheat sheet folded like a fan and taped inside thighs, students hikes up skirt and opens legs, and cheats are visible only to the cheater
-Cell- texting: type out a text message to someone else in class (or even at home) and get silent text reply
-Cell- photo: take photo of test question, send to someone at home, get silent text reply
-Calculator program: type formulas or cheats into calculator before test begins
-Calculator- sharing: program cheats ahead of time and let someone else use the calculator during the test
-iPod- professor: listen to recorded lecture during the test; possible to hide earphone wires behind long hear
-iPod- student: prerecord yourself saying formulas and cheats, listen during test
-Mutilate: erase, cross out, crease, fold, cover over (even with chapstick) “non-answer”, parts of the Scantron form to confuse the machine and guarantee a 100% score
The research above tried to mention all the possible cheating methods , however; it left an indefinite number of new methods. Some of the previous methods are classical, others are based on technology, and some cheats are prepared before the exam, others happen during the exam.
Another research, published in the International Journal of Cyber Ethics in Education by Kevin Curran and others from the University of Ulster in UK, concluded the methods used by cheaters (7):
1. Traditional methods of cheating:
-Pencil case: cheaters could hide notes within their pencil case to aid them during the examination
-Hiding notes: this could be in their school jacket or even their socks. When the exam moderators are not looking, they could then take a peek at their notes
-Writing on arms and hands: the student writes notes on the inside and back of their arms and hands
-Notes on ruler: the students hide notes behind the ruler
-Leaving the room: the student could ask to go to the toilet at anytime where he can then look at notes and return to the examination hall
2. Cheating using technology:
-Mobile phones: a student could use a mobile phone to text someone on the outside to get the answer
-Calculator: scientific calculator can store formulas, fractions and text. It is used by the student for exams which require a calculator
-MP3 players: such as the iPod shuffle is easy to disguise as it is small and the lead of the earphones can be hidden below clothing
-Wireless receivers: the student would have to whisper the questions into the microphone to someone outside of the exam hall who would look up the answer and then say it into a microphone which would be broadcast into the earphones of the student
-PDAs: PCs can open notes and look up information on the web
-Invisible ink pens: write answers with visible ink, when a special light is shone over the text the writing then becomes visible
-Wrist watches: it allows the storage of sufficient amounts of information which can be erased if the student feels he has been caught
Almost all the methods mentioned in this research are used by cheaters through technological devices; therefore, the teachers should be aware of them.
After dealing with common reasons which lead the learners to cheat, and the methods used by them, let’s see what we can suggest as solutions to treat this phenomenon.
First of all, it is obvious that moral values and religious beliefs are the most important factors which may play an important role in preventing students from cheating. Since the act of cheating is morally regarded as immoral behavior, and as a sin in religion. This is why to diminish it we have to go back to morality and religious teachings; because the matter is related to self control.
In his study, Dr hamzeh M. Dodeen found that the most important reasons which influence students’ behavior for not to cheat in examinations where respectively (8):
The first reason is “religious beliefs”; it is the strongest reason for not to cheat; those students who prevent cheating just to be believers in religious teachings, mainly in Islam, see cheating as a sin that should be avoided, and they do that for fear to be punished by almighty God. They avoid cheating like avoiding eating in Ramadan even if they are hidden, and like avoiding taking alcohol drinks. So, the first suggested solution to overcome cheating is to increase the religious feeling through teaching Islamic education, and mainly the verses of the Koran, and sayings of the prophet peace be up on him which talk about cheating as a misdeed that should be avoided by the believer, whether he is a seller his shop or a worker in his manufacture, or a student in his school. We have to emphasize the fear from Allah when doing our woks, and that Islam teachings urge Muslims to do them with perfection and integrity.
The second reason regarded as an important factor is that students see “cheating is immoral”; and it is known that moral norms and values are acquired through socialization. Piaget distinguishes two stages in the moral development; the external “objective” morality; where parents play an important role in judging actions as true or false, and the internal “subjective” morality; where conscience or super ego becomes active in differentiating true actions and false ones. An adult, normally, belongs to the second stage; he is controlled by his conscience, then he can’t do wrong things; otherwise he will be psychologically punished by a sort of culpability feeling. Those students who are morally mature cannot cheat because of this self control. We should guide students to adopt principles of the second stage, and this may be done through dynamic group technique, to help group members to pass to higher level by favoring standards and values of the aiming stage in discussions.
The third important factor for not cheating, the researcher said, is ‘personal pride’; it is related to what an individual considers as true, and he acts on the light of his own thinking. The structure of the student’s personality has a critical role in refusing cheating; he is behaving like a knight who sees that cheating makes him loose his self-consideration.
We can reinforce such feelings by devaluating the cheating behavior in society. We have to call things with their real names; do not name bad actions with beautiful names.
The fourth reason for not cheating, the study referred, is “cheating is useless”; the student should be convinced that is unworthy to cheat, and he won’t gain anything when cheating.
This conviction may be achieved through constructing exam questions so as cheating becomes useless; such as avoiding objective tests, offering multiple versions of tests, adding proctors, warning students that cheaters would be hardly punished(9). Therefore, it is useful to encourage and value personal initiatives when correcting exam papers.
The last important reason for not to cheat is “shame to be caught”, it is related to the image of cheater among his peers, whether he is seen as a proud and hero or as a faithless and buzzard. We can benefit from the characteristics of childhood and adolescence to deepen this feeling among learners, since learners are either children or adolescents; making a cheater looks like a thief when being caught.
In addition to the previous solutions, we suggest forming teachers (oblige them) to ask free response questions in examinations; so as answers should be personal and with student’s own style.
Kevin Yee and Patricia MacKown have given practical solutions to many cheating methods such as (10):
Use multiple proctors to overcome whispering, wandering eyes, sign language, misdirection, write on body, cheat sheet, write in chewing gum, cheat sheet stuck into center of bra, leg fan, and other cheating methods.
Prohibit sunglasses, cell phones, calculators, iPod usage and any device that can be used in cheating.
Arrange the exam room so as the contact between students becomes difficult; leave empty chairs in between students, change students’ places randomly, patrol the room regularly, remain all objects on the floor “bottles of water, sunglasses, hats…”, erase any pencil markings…
Use a different version of the test for each class, or at least reorder the questions.
Cheating based on technology seems to be more dangerous nowadays, in addition to traditional methods of proctoring; we have to face it with technology. Therefore, Kevin Curran suggests using a signal jamming device “jammers”, which are intended to prevent radio equipment from receiving and transmitting signals relevant to their function. Such jammers need to be strong enough to block phone signals without interfering with other devices such as electronic doors (11).
The sanctions imposed on cheaters must be hardened; students would fear punishment, and this may be a motivating factor for not cheating. We have to increase the risk a cheater takes when cheating; in addition to the sanctions, we have to display the cheaters’ names; since many researchers found that ‘shame at being caught’ is an important factor for not cheating.
It is obvious that cheating threatens the integrity of the educational system, since it makes evaluation useless. New approaches consider that evaluation is as important as the curriculum itself; furthermore, evaluation became part of the curriculum.
In this article we highlighted the reasons of cheating, to draw attention to the root of the problem, and to clarify the background of cheaters. We also set the different methods and techniques of cheating used by cheaters, to make their detection easier and proctors aware of them, whether those methods and techniques are classical or moderate based on new technologies. Finally, we suggested many solutions to face this phenomenon, such as prohibiting all devices that may be refuge for cheaters, arranging the exam room so as contact between students would be hardened, using multiple proctors and reducing the number of students in an exam room, using jammers to block phone signals, removing all objects from tables…
Unfortunately, many studies found that carelessness of proctors was a strong reason for cheating; furthermore, they confirmed that some of them do encourage students to cheat, and this should be stopped, otherwise all the solutions proposed would be useless.
A last factor seems more important than all what we mentioned before; it is the political will to preserve the integrity of examinations, and mainly the national ones. For instance, the integrity of BEM and Baccalaureate is threatened in Algeria, some are working to break the honesty of those exams, and deform their reputation, and many see them as an actual obstacle in their ambitions, I mean those who want badness and dishonesty spread out in society.
1. Andy Ozment & Alison Smith & Wendy Newsletter. Causes for cheating: unclear expectations in the classroom. Georgia institute of technology, college of computing. Session 3230.
2. Department of chemistry and Biochemistry. Policy on academic cheating and plagiarism for students. The San Jose state University Senate policy. June 2012
3. Andy Ozment (the previous reference). P 3
4. Hamzeh. M. dodeen. Undergraduate student cheating in exams. Damascus University Journal. Vol 28. N° 1. 2012. P 46
5. Mark. G. Simkin & Alexander MacLeod. Why do college students cheat. Journal of Business ethics. Springer 2012
6. Kevin Yee & Patricia MacKown. Detecting and preventing cheating during exams. Center for academic integrity. Rutland Institute for Ethics. Clemson University. 1999
7. Kevin Curran. Gary Middleton & Giaran Doherty. Cheating in exams with technology. International Journal of Cyber Ethics in Education. June 2011. P 56-59
8. Hmzeh. M. Dodeen. (previous reference). P 48
9. Andy Ozment & Alison Smith & Wendy Newsletter. (previous reference)
10.Kevin Yee & Patricia MacKown. (previous reference)
11.Kevin Curran. Gary Middleton & Giaran Doherty. (previous reference)